Stevie Schmitz, director of Master of Educational Leadership and Distance Education, 406.657.1134,
RMC Media Team, 406.657.1105,

Record enrollment honors quality of RMC M.Ed. program  

BILLINGS, August 4, 2014 – A record cohort of 23 professional educators started their first day in the Master of Educational Leadership (M.Ed.) program at Rocky Mountain College Monday, August 4. The curriculum prepares them to become school principals or school district superintendents.

Entry to the RMC M.Ed. program is competitive. Several of the graduate students already have master’s degrees in education. Students from Wyoming, North Dakota, and Darby, Polson, and Columbia Falls, Mont., for example, chose the 11-month RMC program over longer commitments at universities closer to home.

“We went to this totally different [intensive, shorter-duration] design after a lot of study,” said Jo Swain, associate professor of education. A longtime elementary school principal and local educational leader, Swain once served as superintendent of Billings Public Schools. 

While taking 17 credits a semester through the academic year, the students complete intensive internships each semester with a practicing mentor in their hometown school. About half the students join the evening classes in real time using online two-way VisionNet technology. The minimal on-campus requirement includes this first week in the fall and a capstone week in June: bookends to the K-12 school year. 

For first few minutes of their curriculum, grad students created personal symbols on caps given to them by Swain and program director Stevie Schmitz, then explained their designs to each other. Building on the cap analogy, “Leaders wear many hats,” Swain said, from teacher to learner to coordinator to mentor. This program, she said, prepares instructional leaders who will assist teachers to help students reach their full potential.

Students’ second lesson Monday analyzed qualities of an educational leader such as accountability, approachability, humility, integrity, initiative, perseverance, visibility, and strong listening skills. “We’re all teachers here. These professors start with the important stuff,” said Jonathan Abuhl of Williston, N.D. 

The students listened intently to their welcome from RMC President Bob Wilmouth and Academic Vice President Steve Gammon. Wilmouth congratulated candidates on their choice of preparation programs and told them that his door is always open to them. Gammon, earlier in his career, loved to teach chemistry and physics science education classes for school administrators and teachers. In a five-year science education improvement grant that Gammon managed in a former position, “The single most important factor we found,” he said, “was the quality of the school administration. The successful ones are all willing to engage, to put students first, to lift them to new levels of learning.” 

Students will come together again for a June capstone week to demonstrate in person the engagement and wisdom that they share mostly online through the year. The RMC program is accredited by Montana Office of Public Instruction, which adds an administrator endorsement to graduates’ teaching certificates, so they may work as principals or superintendents. But, according to Schmitz, the program creates instructional leaders, not just managers.