Office Profile: Pennsylvania School Study Council
by Joe Savrock (May 2008)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The quality of public schools is a concern for most educational organizations. It certainly is the heart and soul of the persons who anchor the Pennsylvania School Study Council (PSSC).
Paul Begley, Jillian Reese, Angela Tzilkowski, and Carly Ackley comprise the PSSC office, located on the second floor of Rackley Building. PSSC is a partnership between Penn State and member school districts, intermediate units, and area vocational-technical schools throughout Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1947, PSSC is dedicated to improving public education by providing up-to-date research information, professional development activities, and technical assistance to its members.
Paul Begley is the PSSC’s executive director, a role he assumed in February 2007. He brings a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and passion to the position.
Paul has been expanding the scope of the organization. “With the help of Bob Hendrickson, Kyle Peck, and a PDE project, we were able to cultivate some new income sources,” said Paul. “And Jillian Reese and Angela Tzilkowski did a lot of work to promote the organization with school districts and increase our membership. We also made several new publications available to the membership as benefits of membership.”
Paul is overseeing a major reorganization at PSSC. “Traditionally PSSC has mostly been about professional development,” he explains. “But now we are expanding our mandate to become a research liaison arm between school districts and Penn State.”
Paul says the group is pursuing several initiatives to develop its new research role. “A year from now we will know how successful we have been in accomplishing this,” he said.
Paul also serves as director of the D. J. Willower Center for the Study of Leadership and Ethics. He brought the Center to Penn State when he arrived in 2003 from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Paul was born and raised in Canada. “I am 14th-generation French Canadian on my mother’s side,” he reveals. “Her family settled near Quebec in the late 1600s. My dad’s family came over to Ontario from Ireland in about 1830.”
Paul and his wife Marilyn now hold permanent resident status in the United States. “But we still maintain a residence in Mt. St. Louis, Ontario, where we spend our holidays and meet for family gatherings,” he said.
Marilyn works within earshot of Paul, just upstairs on the third floor. She’s a certification officer for EDLDR and managing editor of the American Journal of Education. “I have always considered Marilyn the secret of my success,” said Paul.
Jillian Reese is PSSC’s associate executive director. She acts as a liaison between the University and member school districts, while also coordinating field research and supervising the professional development programs for the PSSC.
She also serves the greater EDLDR program as coordinator of certification programs for principals and superintendents. She has served an editing role with the American Journal of Education.
Jillian did her undergraduate work at Penn State, receiving a bachelor’s degree in advertising. Later she obtained a master’s in elementary education from the University of Colorado.
She began her education career as an elementary school teacher in Colorado. “I taught in a very low-socioeconomic, multilingual elementary school on the outskirts of Denver,” she says. “I spent another year as a reading instructor for an after-school program for elementary students in a Denver public housing project.”
Eventually she found her way back to Happy Valley and enrolled in Penn State’s Educational Leadership (EDLDR) doctoral program. “In all honesty, graduate school at Penn State just seemed like a good option after moving back,” she said. Jillian received her Ph.D. in May 2007.
“After my years as a graduate student, I valued my experience and welcomed any opportunity to remain a part of the EDLDR program,” said Jillian. “I had no idea where it all would lead, but I couldn't be happier with where I am now.”
Jillian’s husband, John, owns an architectural engineering firm in State College. He likewise was once a Penn State undergrad. “We met in a personalized fitness class our senior year,” says Jillian.
Jillian and John have three children. Their ten-year-old twins attend Houserville Elementary School near State College. “We also have a soon-to-be three-year-old who runs the household,” quips Jillian.
Angela Tzilkowski, PSSC’s research technician, also is a Penn State graduate. She holds a double bachelor's degree in biology and nutrition science. Angela joined PSSC in 2006.
Angela and her husband Bill lived for a while in Alaska. Angela served in Anchorage as a program assistant for the World Wildlife Fund and as a research associate in public health for the Alaska Native Health Board.
Angela says life in the region was an adventure, including the occasional rides aboard a four- or six-seat propeller plane to rural Alaska Native villages. “I got an intimate view of the beautiful Alaska countryside, while trying not to toss my cookies,” she muses. “I also learned to eat muktuk—whale blubber—and seal stew with a smile on my face as a guest at Alaska Native community potluck dinners.”
Angela calls her work with Alaska Native communities “the best work experience of my life. I learned the real meaning of community-driven research, including not only the intense challenges it presents, but also the great benefits to the community if done properly.
Eventually Angela and Bill returned to State College and celebrated the birth of their son, Luke, who now is 2 ½ years old. “Living in Alaska was a great adventure,” she says, “but we are happy to be closer to family again.”
Family is quite close by, in fact: Angela is the second Tzilkowski to hold a position at PSSC. Her mother-in-law, Karen, worked with PSSC for 12 years and now supports the Educational Theory and Policy program. “Karen has been an invaluable resource for me for both training and moral support,” says Angela.
Angela’s background in biology and nutritional sciences carries over into her work in education. “My underlying interest and motivation in every job I’ve done has been a commitment to improving community health and the environment,” she explains. “My work at PSSC keeps me connected to that mission since we are dedicated to improving public education in Pennsylvania schools, which in my mind is a keystone to healthy communities.”
Carly Ackley, project director, joined PSSC during the fall of 2007. She serves as editor of the PSSC’s peer-reviewed journal, The Beacon, as well as the Perspectives newsletter.
Carly completed her undergraduate work at The University of Tennessee, earning a B.S. in early childhood education. In 2005 she enrolled in Penn State's Educational Leadership program and completed her M.Ed. in August of 2007. Currently she is a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership. Her research interests are centered on leadership in green education.
“In line with the ‘green’ phenomenon that has taken off, schools are also getting involved by not only educating children about the importance of being environmentally conscious, but also living this motto,” says Carly. “Many schools have chosen to adopt recycling programs, change the structure of their actual school building, build gardens or outdoor classrooms, or find their own way to cut down on waste.”
Carly is looking at the leadership aspect of green schools. “My focus is on the principal and what their role is in the movement,” she states, “things like, What do they believe and value? What actions have they taken to become green? What is their role in all of this?”
Carla enjoys her association with PSSC. “Dr. Begley, Jillian, and Angela made the transition into this position incredibly easy. Once I was in the role and began to understand what the PSSC actually is, I found myself impressed with the goals and purposes of the events and quality of activities associated with the organization.”
Carla hopes to finish her doctorate by December of 2008, but if her research takes longer than she expects, she’s eyeing May 2009.
“I would like to go into teaching and possibly administration after I have gained experience in the field,” says Carly. “I’m looking forward to gaining practical experience and working with children.”