SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Keith Dils, Slippery Rock University's new College of Education dean, has found his desktop full - and he's only been on the job three weeks.
Dils, who comes to SRU following a nationwide search, most recently served a year as interim dean of the College of Education and Educational Technology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a program that included 1,400 undergraduate students and 850 graduate students.
SRU's College of Education enrolls 2,431 undergraduates and 410 graduate students.
"It has been terrific," Dils said. "Ever since I was named to the post, and I was living in Murrysville, many Slippery Rock University alumni came up to me and were very excited about Slippery Rock. They were excited about their experience here; and they had a lot of pride in the alma mater. I am from Harrisburg and have been home to see family, where I have also seen alumni who shake my hand and welcome me to the Slippery Rock family. That speaks volumes about SRU and alumni who are very proud of their University," he said.
"In getting to know the campus, everyone has been very friendly and helpful and welcoming, and I feel at home already," he said.
Although he is just settling in to campus, and to his new home in Cranberry Township, he said the top items on his desk already include beginning work on the Washington, D.C.-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education re-accreditation.
The College of Education's current accreditation runs through 2015. Re-accreditation, however, requires the continuous assessment of both individual teacher candidates and the College of Education as a whole, he said. "For candidates, their knowledge, skills and dispositions are assessed through a system of 'gates' that consist of key performance-based assessments. This system is used to insure candidates are making adequate progress as they move through the program."
"For the college, assessments are developed and conducted to measure overall candidate performance in field and diversity experiences. Data from employer surveys, graduate surveys and standardized state teacher exams are aggregated, analyzed and used to help make informed decisions about program development. Finally, evidence is collected concerning teacher candidates' impact on student learning," he said.
SRU received its first NCATE approval in 1954 and has continued the process for 59 consecutive years. Only 20 percent of Pennsylvania's teacher education programs have earned NCATE accreditation.
"SRU's College of Education has a rich history and a strong tradition of seeing its students involved in teaching and serving as counselors as well as having its graduates serve as educators throughout the world. Most of our college's students have been very successful. Some have parlayed their SRU education into related fields that require leadership skills and the ability to think on their feet. Our graduates hold teaching, counseling and administration positions, and also positions of leadership and service in all areas," Dils said
"We have to recognize the great things we have done; the faculty we have here are super, and they are clearly strong in their field; their pedagogy is excellent; and their focus on the students and their ability to give individualized coaching and feedback is so valuable," he said.
The upcoming NCATE review will allow the college to assemble its strengths, discuss them and improve on them, while simultaneously reviewing areas that need work or issues that need to be addressed, Dils said. "We are preparing to do that to accomplish our goals and meet NCATE standards as part of the process."
"It is tough work, but it is an excellent process that allows us to focus on what is important in teacher education. Accreditation is the way that the teacher education discipline pulls together what we know about what works in teaching. It is the way we police ourselves and allows us to have in-depth conversations about what works, not only on the individual level, but also on the institutional level. We look at our information, and we look at our data and we have discussions, both internally and with external accreditors," Dils said, who has been involved in three NCATE reviews in the last seven years, including work for initial accreditation at Kings College "where we had to put it all together from the ground up - and we were successful," he said.
"At IUP, we pursed NCATE's 'continuous improvement accreditation' and we were the first university in Pennsylvania to earn that accreditation," he said.
"In looking at Slippery Rock University, I see people with a wide variety of strengths, and I know we will pull together to benefit from the process," Dils said.
Other items Dils is already addressing include partnering with school districts as part of SRU's student teacher program in which students spend time in various school classrooms throughout the region, and then serve as a teacher to gain hands-on experience.
"When we go into the schools, we certainly want to make sure our student teachers have a tremendous learning experience. We also want to insure that the students our student teachers teach are reaching their highest potential. We want to enter the schools aware of the school district's strategic plan. We want to know the areas the school district has identified as needing improvement, where they want to be strong and how our student-teacher supervisors and our student teachers can set foot on their campuses, partner with teachers and administrators and help them reach their goals," he said.
"We have done that in the past, and we will continue to focus on collecting the data showing we have this positive impact, starting with student teaching and continuing as our graduates become teachers," he said.
Dils said he was in the process of learning.
"I am meeting one-on-one with each of my faculty and staff, so I can get to know their perspective to find out where we are and where we need to be. I have lots of ideas. However, I strongly believe in shared governance. I am a strong believer in being inclusive in decision-making. I know that the SRU faculty is our greatest resource, and that they will have knowledge and expertise that will be invaluable as we look to the future" he said.
"As we have these meetings, it has come up that we have more than 11,000 students in Pennsylvania attending cyberschools. So it is certainly a trend, and we need to investigate how we can help produce teachers well versed in the best practices of the cyber classroom. We know best practices; we know what science tells us; what the data tell us in terms of teaching online. We will continue to look at these programs and investigate how we can help improve teaching in this area. It is one of the conversations we have to have," Dils said.
In announcing Dils' appointment, which includes a three-year contract, then acting SRU President Charles Curry said, "We certainly welcome Dr. Dils as our new dean. We are confident that he brings with him all of the necessary skills and leadership talents to maintain, and build, on the fine reputation of our education program."
"Dr. Dils clearly stood out as a near-perfect fit for our College of Education programs," said William Williams, SRU provost and vice president for academic affairs. "We have enjoyed outstanding leadership with Dr. [Kathleen] Strickland as our dean, and we will miss her as she moves to retirement. I am confident Dr. Dils will take many of Dr. Strickland's successful programs and build on them to continue to provide an excellent teacher education program for our students."
Dils earned his bachelor of arts in social science with a minor in secondary education at Lebanon Valley College, his master's of arts degree in public administration at Shippensburg University and his doctor of education degree in teacher education with a minor in education administration at West Virginia University. He also attended the Scandinavian Institute of Physical Culture in Viborg, Denmark, for a summer seminar sponsored by the Danish Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Education.
He formerly served as associate dean of the College of Education and Educational Technology at IUP. While employed at King's College, he was chair of the education division and chaired a 10-member, tenure track graduate and undergraduate faculty and nearly two-dozen part-time faculty. He served as coordinator for the college's initial NCATE accreditation.
He served as an associate and assistant professor of education at King's College and has formerly served as a social studies teacher at Wellsboro [Pa.] Middle School.
A member of the Mu Delta chapter of Phi Alpha Theta honor society, Dils is also a member of the Kappa Delta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi and Delta Epsilon Sigma honor societies. He also has Pennsylvania State Teacher Certification, in the social studies and middle-level science areas, and has certification from the Athletic Coaches Education Program.
He was elected to the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Association of Teacher Education and has been invited to conduct "Classroom Management for Diverse Students" for Pittsburgh School District Student Teacher Training at the Greenway Professional Development Center. He is treasurer of the Pennsylvania Dean's Forum and a member of the National Middle School Association, American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and PACTE.
Dils and his wife have three children, ages 13, 10 and six.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.