Dr. Timothy Freeman took the road less traveled to become part of the first cohort of the online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program at Youngstown State University.
“I explored it a number of times, but having a wife, a family and a principal job at a large high school afforded me very little time and flexibility to pursue that doctorate,” he said. “While I built a good professional reputation, I was the guy who never had ‘Doctor’ in front of my name.”
Dr. Freeman spent over 31 years in the field as a teacher and school administrator. He is currently the executive director of the Ohio Association of
Secondary School Administrators (OASSA). He has been with OASSA since 2017.
In his role as a high school principal in Northeast Ohio several years ago, he was working with the local Educational Service Center (ESC) when he was approached for his input on a doctoral program.
“At that point in my career, I was rapidly approaching retirement age,” he said. “I was asked to sit down with some people at our ESC and share my opinions about traditional doctoral programs.
“My goal was to share with the ESC what they needed to do to attract school building administrators with busy schedules who wanted a doctorate. I went to a brainstorming meeting and laid out a list of things I thought had to be part of a program if they wished to get my peers involved.”
A month or so later, Dr. Freeman heard back from the ESC and ultimately YSU who took some of his ideas into account. He was introduced at a meeting to (YSU Professors) Dr. Charles Vergon and Dr. Jane Beese. They invited him to enroll and encouraged him to find some of his peers to join him.
“They called my bluff,” he said. “About 20 of us responded, and we went to the ESC and sat through some informational presentations. They fast-tracked getting us enrolled. That first cohort started with 16 of us. I said, ‘Okay, I am in.’ I spent so much time in school over the years, but I always wanted that terminal degree.”
Everything fell into line with the program for Dr. Freeman to achieve his goal of earning a doctoral degree. He graduated in December 2019.
“I respected Dr. Vergon and Dr. Beese and all of the instructors they exposed us to,” he said. “At the same time, the connection, camaraderie and support from the cohort made it an unbelievable experience.
“Those of us in that first cohort were all school principals or central office staff. We were coming from the same world with the same challenges and commitments.”
Answering the Bell
Dr. Freeman grew up in Rocky River, Ohio, in the Cleveland area. His mother, Gloria, was a teacher, but he wasn’t keen on following in her footsteps.
“When I met with my high school guidance counselor, he said, ‘I think you’d be great in education,'” said Dr. Freeman. “I remember walking out of the office and saying, ‘I will literally do anything except be a teacher.’ I don’t know if you can escape your destiny.”
While attending Cleveland State University as a psychology major, Dr. Freeman landed a position teaching special education in the inner city as a college junior.
“It was an unusual circumstance because I had an interest in special needs children,” he said. “I pursued my undergrad with the belief that school psychology was going to be the avenue into that field. It didn’t take me long to fall in love with being in the classroom.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Cleveland State in 1991, Dr. Freeman went on to earn a master’s degree in special education from Kent State University. Upon receiving his principal licensure from Ursuline College, he spent a large portion of his career as a secondary level administrator — a high school assistant principal, middle school principal, then high school principal — and earned superintendent licensure at Ashland University.
“I was at a point in my career where I had spent most of my adult life in school in one form or another,” he said. “While I had the superintendent licensure, I never truly aspired to the superintendency. I was in love with the principalship. I found myself blessed because I loved getting up every day and going to work.”
Dr. Freeman believes the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program, which is now available online, allowed him to work closely with his peers while enhancing his knowledge base for a win-win.
“My favorite part about any coursework I took was when things dealt with the real world, beyond the philosophical underpinnings,” he said. “The Youngstown State program is anchored by connection to what we were doing every day.
“That connection to authentic work, group-based problem-solving, scenario-based work and the concept of networking to solve problems was woven through virtually every single course I took there. It was wonderful.”
March of the Penguin
Dr. Freeman completed the journey to his Ed.D. by walking in the commencement ceremony. He also got an extra surprise on graduation day.
“It was a good time,” he said. “I am a huge fan of [YSU President] Dr. Jim Tressel, and I had an opportunity to be in the same room and speak with him one on one. That was a great moment for me. As a result of that conversation, Dr. Tressel agreed to be a featured speaker at one of OASSA’s principal professional development events this year.
Throughout his time at YSU, Dr. Freeman received plenty of support from his wife, Karen, and his children — Sarah (28), Stephanie (26) and Sean (22).
“My wife and family pushed me to go back and pursue the doctoral degree for years,” he said. “I resisted it. They were excited for me to be in the program. My mom and dad were tickled to death at my graduation.
“The coolest by-product: My eldest daughter is pursuing her Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of West Virginia. Because I have the degree, they are going to let me hood her on stage.”
Dr. Freeman is the first person in his family to earn a doctorate. He enjoys traveling and listening to music in his free time. Van Halen is his favorite band.
“I am one of eight children,” he said. “Everybody is well educated, but I certainly make them call me ‘Doctor’ at family gatherings.”
The experience of earning a degree while helping YSU mold a solid program for his fellow educators made returning to school a spot-on decision for Dr. Freeman.
“Recognizing the constituency that was underserved in that way by the rigid nature of traditional doctoral programming without sacrificing the integrity of the experience and getting over the hurdles that make it accessible to people was far more valuable than the degree at the end of it,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
Learn more about YSU’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership online program.