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Offutt completes work on doctorate

By Staff | May 27, 2011

During her junior year of high school, Suzanne Offutt had her first, and last, visit to the principal’s office, that is if you don’t count her 12-year career as principal of Shepherdstown Elementary School.

She had skipped her art class period right after lunch because she decided she wanted to take an extended lunch. She sat outside and ate by her car.

According to Offutt, she really enjoyed the class but didn’t predict that her art teacher would notice her absence.

“I’ve always been in school and really enjoy learning,” Offutt said.

Offutt graduated this spring to earn her doctorate in Education Leadership studies at West Virginia University in a cohort program at Potomac State University that caters to people who are in the Eastern Panhandle. The program took her eight years, before pursuing her Ed.D. Offutt also earned three masters.

“Getting my Ed.D. was a real test of time management. When you work a job full time, family and rigorous demands on this kind of level, it can be very challenging,” she said.

Offutt’s jobs span the gamut from “the leak in kitchen sink to the child who has major problems at home.”

“You really feel a key to taking responsibility as part of a community. It weighs heavily on you to make principal decisions,” she said.

Offutt’s dissertation dealt with resilience of stress from childhood to the workplace and studied resilience and leadership practices in elementary schools in West Virginia.

According to Offutt, the study looks at all kinds of people who go through stresses and traumas and how they survive that experience and turn it into a lesson to motivate productivity.

Offutt mentioned how Kauai Study changed the perspective that predicted certain types of stressors on children, such as absent parents or poverty, would result in them eventually becoming unproductive members of society. The Kauai Study found that the amount or type of stressors was not the predictor of who survives or who didn’t. The nourishing environment or lack thereof was more of a determining factor to how children would turn out.

“Sometimes just the luck of having people intervene, step into your life and provide support can make a difference,” Offutt said.

Applying the theory to school, Offutt hopes to set up different programs that will help children in high stress environments. She also hopes to apply it to people in her position as elementary principals.

“How can you sustain principals as being productive change agents – always prepared to respond to changes in the culture, community, the children, the challenges? How can you continue to be productive and not become a person who is filling a space?” Offutt said.

Offutt admits that her job can be stressful but finds joy in being around children.

“Laughingly some days you’ll say someone pays me to do this. I like this positions because it affords me opportunities to investigate and look around, bring opportunities to students I work with that I hope make an impact on their lives,” Offutt said.