Growing up in St. Cloud with a passion for learning set School District of Osceola County superintendent Debra Pace on the path towards becoming an educational leader.

Pace’s mom has been her inspiration and guiding light throughout her educational journey.

“My mother Beverly Partin, who is also a UCF graduate, went back to school to earn her undergraduate and master’s degrees in education after my brother started kindergarten. She taught kindergarten and first grade for more than 30 years. She always made family a priority, but loved her work and made a tremendous impact on a lot of Osceola County students. She has always believed in and challenged me to do my best and supported my aspirations to be a leader in the field of education.”

She received her Foreign Language-International Trade bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and taught high school English and Spanish at Osceola, St. Cloud and Poinciana High Schools and later became a school principal at Harmony High School.

Pace received her master’s degree in English education at the UCF College of Education and Human Performance (CEDHP) and later became the School District of Osceola County’s deputy superintendent of secondary education.

After serving the School District of Osceola County for 25 years, she expanded her leadership by becoming the Brevard Public Schools’ (BPS) associate superintendent of human resources in July 2011.

Pace furthered her education by receiving her doctorate in executive educational leadership from CEDHP in May 2015. The program provided her with an opportunity to engage in dialogue about important executive leadership issues.

“The Ed.D. Educational Leadership program appealed to me because of the face-to-face instruction with a cohort of aspiring leaders and the emphasis on combining research and practice guided by professors with experience in the field.”

Like others in the doctoral program, her dissertation focused on particular interests within her organization. Pace was able to conduct research and make a difference in her school district.

BPS conducted peer coaching as a model to support implementation of the instructional framework in a new evaluation system and to ensure improvements in practice.

As a result, BPS saw improvements in both teaching and learning and have implemented a strong focus on measuring the impact of future professional learning.

She advises students pursuing a graduate degree to “set aside a regular time and day of the week to work on your studies and communicate that schedule to your family, friends and co-workers, so you can maintain your relationships and fulfill your regular responsibilities while getting the additional work done. Commitment is required.”

Pace was recently appointed as the superintendent of the School District of Osceola County, and began her new role Feb. 29. She’s the sixth Florida school-district superintendent to graduate with a doctorate in executive educational leadership from CEDHP. She received invaluable knowledge and information for determining the best student-learning outcomes in her new superintendent role.

“An emphasis throughout the program was using research and data to guide decision making as well as the importance of being the lead learner, inspiring others to work and get better every day. As I move forward as a new superintendent, this way of work will be critical in helping me ensure that we’re using the valuable dollars we have to maximize student learning and potential for success.”

Currently, six of the 26 appointed public school-district superintendents in Florida are CEDHP educational leadership doctoral graduates. Besides Pace, the five other appointed Florida school-district superintendents include Walt Griffin of Seminole County Public Schools; Barbara Jenkins of Orange County Public Schools; Susan Moxley of Lake County Schools; Joseph Joyner of St. Johns County School District; and Mark Rendell of the School District of Indian River County.

The focus of the doctorate in executive educational leadership is to apply research to improve leadership and teaching practice.

CEDHP’s interim associate dean for graduate studies and professor Rosemarye Taylor says “Our program is unique as we create collaborative opportunities for students to have dialogue regarding important issues in schools and school districts within Florida, the U.S. and internationally. These experiences broaden perspectives relating to their use-inspired research.”

Pace is looking forward to her new superintendent role.

“School District of Osceola County superintendent Melba Luciano has brought stability to the school district while capitalizing on opportunities to expand programs in STEM and early literacy. I want to build on her work and the school system where people want to come to Osceola County and stay, focusing on schools experiencing success in key academic indicators to develop a systemic approach that ensures high-quality teaching and learning in every classroom with the emphasis on helping all students reach their fullest potential.”