Superintendent receives excellence award
April 28, 2009
- Dr. Dell McMullen received the National Excellence in Education Award in March from AdvancED
- "So I fell into education - and loved it," Dell McMullen said. "When I look back, I wouldn't change a thing."
Dr. Dell McMullen received the National Excellence in Education Award in March from AdvancED, an accreditation organization that includes DDESS.
McMullen, superintendent of the Department of Defense Domestic Elementary and Secondary Schools for the Georgia and Alabama district, was nominated by several of her colleagues for her leadership and hands-on involvement during the past 15 years with Fort Benning schools.
"She's in the schools all the time," said Margaret Koger, a teacher at McBride Elementary.
"She's not just a figurehead with her picture on the wall in the foyer. The kids know who she is, and she remembers them from year to year. She still knows how important it is to be where the real learning takes place, where the students and teachers are interacting. Really and truly everything she does is all about our kids, the kids of the United States military. She believes in that with her whole heart - she's given her life to this."
McMullen was nominated for many reasons, Koger said, but chief among them is her plan to prepare students for the 21st century, a process that began under McMullen's watch more than a decade ago.
"She is such a visionary and such a leader in education," Koger said. "She's always encouraged us to step out of our comfort zone and try new things and for some years has seen the importance of us moving toward 21st-century learning, so that we are preparing students for this century rather the century we were educated in."
Knowing how much McMullen supports creativity in the classroom means a lot to Barbara Culwell, a teacher at Dexter involved in the nomination.
"She has really encouraged us to think outside the box ... be creative. I know that translates back into meeting the needs of kids," Culwell said. "There is no one I'd rather work for than Dell McMullen, and I mean that wholeheartedly. I have worked for her for 18 years. She's always been helpful. Whenever I have gone to her to ask her advice, she always makes sure she has time to sit down and listen. She'd go out of her way to help me if I felt like I needed help."
Although education is a good fit for McMullen, who has more than 30 years of experience in the field, it wasn't her first choice.
"I was too short to be a flight attendant," she said. "I had never been on a plane - at that time I had only been four hours away from where I grew up, a farm (in) Crawfordville, Ga. - but I thought that would be great. And then the second thing I wanted to be was a concert pianist, because in my hometown I was great. But my hometown only had 700 people, and as soon as I got to college, it was very clear I was not going to be a concert pianist.
"So I fell into education - and loved it. When I look back, I wouldn't change a thing. Everything happens for a reason. I believe that."
McMullen taught in Muscogee County, later becoming an assistant principal at an elementary school.
"Then I became really interested in becoming a principal, so I applied 23 times," McMullen said. "I was really, really persistent because I had my heart set on becoming a principal.
"So when Loyd school came open on post, I applied and I got it. I didn't have any military connection at all. In fact, I didn't know much about the military. But they treated me so well at Loyd. I loved it."
McMullen enjoys working with the military and their families, she said.
"It really is an opportunity to serve our country," she said. "To know we really are working with the children of the men and women who give their lives for our country is very humbling and rewarding. I love it here."
After McMullen served for nine years as superintendent on post, the district was reorganized to include Robins Air Force Base, Maxwell Air Force Base and Fort Rucker. In all this time, McMullen said, she appreciates working with people who are committed to helping children learn at high levels.
"The kind of people I'm so fortunate to work with are always ready to try something different. Teachers are innovative. Principals allow teachers to try things. It takes everybody, all of us working together."
That's the vision McMullen said she sees for the future: a team of educators, administrators, parents and support personnel who cooperate to maintain and improve the level of excellence in the schools.
"It's a creative team that's not afraid to take risks," she said. "They're always excited about new opportunities, always trying to figure out new ways for children to learn better. And that's exciting. It never gets old as long as you're learning new things."