Bruce R. Willingham Jr.

Doctor of Educational Leadership degree helps AU grad earn superintendent job

Published on May 17, 2024
Ashland University

While he wasn’t really looking for a new job, Bruce R. Willingham Jr. just couldn’t pass up the superintendent position at Kenston Local School District.

“The Kenston Schools have a rich history of being a premier district in the state of Ohio,” Willingham said. “I currently live in the next town over from Kenston and, while I wasn’t actively pursuing a new position, the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing district, as well as the opportunity to spend a lot more time with my family, are the two things I’m most excited about.”

The knowledge he gained from earning a Doctor of Educational Leadership from Ashland University will help a great deal when he begins at Kenston on Aug. 1, just as it made a difference the past eight years as superintendent of Midview Local Schools.

“The doctoral program at Ashland taught me so many things, but the most important was the ability to have a critical eye,” said Willingham, who received his doctorate from AU in 2014. “I’ve always had conviction and I am very decisive, but Ashland really helped me think differently about my leadership, specifically who I want to be for others.”

The opportunity to be close to the faculty and his cohort was one of the many things Willingham said he liked about AU.

“I think discourse is the most important part of teaching and learning, and to be able to create lasting relationships, in a smaller environment was really important to me,” he said. “The people make all the difference.”

Among the many amazing professors he had at Ashland, Judy Alston, Ph.D., had the biggest impact on him choosing and excelling at AU, Willingham said.

“I had other opportunities, but she and I connected in a way that made Ashland the right choice for me,” he said. “I tell everyone that part of my research was done on the relationships teachers can have with students and the entire doctoral faculty during my time at Ashland made a difference for me.”

Being as real as possible with staff, parents, community and students is a leadership style Willingham said he is proud he has developed throughout his 25 years in education.

“Ashland helped me craft that and put context to things I had done or seen in others that I wanted to emulate,” he said.

Ashland University’s values also attracted him to its doctoral program in education.

Because of its values in students and education, Midview Schools will always have a special place in his heart, Willingham said.

“The community, the staff and, especially the students, are what make it so special,” he said.

That’s why it was so important to Willingham that Kenston in Chagrin Falls shared similar values and beliefs as Midview. That coupled with it being closer to his home in Aurora than Grafton, where Midview is located, made him feel confident this change will be a good one.

“There are a lot of similarities between the two districts, but being seven miles away from home, as compared to 54, will make a big difference in the time I can spend at district events and with my own family,” he said.