National Writing Project

Moving in New Directions

By: NWP Staff
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 4
Date: September-October 2001

Summary: The leaders of the NWP's eight newest sites are showcased, highlighting their individual backgrounds, what brought them to the role of director, their goals as directors, and more.


. . . And just as new sites come in, so do new directors to guide them. Joining the National Writing Project from a variety of experiences, directions, and backgrounds, site directors are the people who face those hurdles, jump those hoops--and somehow convince an entire community of teachers and writers to join them.

Presented here are brief introductions to the directors of the eight new NWP sites. Each piece touches on a variety of topics, such as what brought this director to teaching, what the director hopes to achieve through his site, how a particular background has benefited a director, etc. Admittedly, in such a small amount of text, it is impossible to do more than offer a glimpse of what makes each director unique. Acknowledging that, then, we offer these sketches as an illustration of the wealth of personalities that enrich the NWP's directorial roles.

Alyson Whyte, Director
Sun Belt Writing Project
Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama

"Nearly 25 years ago now, I loaded up the Olds Cutlass I had 'inherited' from my grandmother, drove from Sacramento over the Carquinez Bridge to Berkeley, and started what still ranks as one of the best years of my life," says Alyson Whyte, new director of the Sun Belt Writing Project in Auburn, Alabama.

That year, 1978-79, Whyte took part in the Bay Area Writing Project's (BAWP) fifth-year credential program at the University of California, Berkeley. Her teachers included Grace Maertins, Ken Lane, Mary Ann Smith, Rebekah Caplan, Fran Claggett, Walter Loban, and Lily Wong Filmore. "That foundation has shaped more than 20 years of public school teaching, university teaching, and research--and who I am privately as much as who I am publicly. My experience in BAWP was the path to an integrated, creative adult life."

In 2001, Whyte joined Auburn University and is an assistant professor of English education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education. Before coming to Auburn, she taught grades 7-12 English language arts in Tucson, Arizona, and worked as an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Policy Studies at Florida State University. Whyte earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1999. Her dissertation was a study of the management of writing response groups in high school classrooms. In addition to teaching, Whyte has coauthored four college writing textbooks with William L. Rivers, Stanford University. Her most recent publications include an article on interaction processes in the spring 2001 Journal for the Art of Teaching and a chapter on writing to learn in Writing Across the Curriculum in Secondary Classrooms: Teaching from a Diverse Perspective, edited by Harriet Arzu Scarborough (Merrill Publishing, 2000).

"My goal as the new director of Sun Belt," Whyte says, "is to preserve the strong tradition of this site, which was initially established by Dr. Richard Graves. Dr. Graves has officially 'retired,' but he gives unstintingly of himself whenever I ask, and he infuses us with the heart and spirit of Sun Belt. Collectively, Cathy Buckhalt and John Pennisi, Sun Belt's co-directors, have 28 years of experience as teacher-consultants, and their expertise and commitment never fails us. And we have a true community of writing project teachers here in eastern Alabama, which reaches back for decades. I want to see the Sun Belt tradition continue and thrive."

Pauline Sahakian, director, UC Merced Writing Project

Pauline Sahakian, Director
UC Merced Writing Project 
Merced, California

Pauline Sahakian began her 33-year teaching career at Clovis High School in Clovis, California. While English department chair, she became a 1982 fellow and a 1983 returning fellow with the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project. In 1984, she was appointed associate director of the site, and writing project work began to dominate her professional life. She worked as the institute co-director, inservice coordinator, newsletter editor, advisory board member, and teacher-consultant to over 55 area schools. She coauthored and edited a book of writing approaches for secondary teachers, Every Piece Fits, organized an area-wide conference entitled Portfolio Perspectives, and led a three-week extension course in London for 18 teacher-consultants who visited schools and attended seminars on teaching writing.

After her experiences as a writer in the summer institute, she reenrolled at California State University, Fresno (CSU Fresno), and earned a master's degree in English with an emphasis in composition theory and practice. The master's degree led to four years of teaching freshman composition at CSU Fresno--an experience that enabled her to bridge the writing expectations for college freshmen with those for high school students. At the same time, she became the K-12 writing assessment resource teacher for the Clovis Unified School District.

Most recently, Sahakian returned to teaching at Buchanan High School in the Clovis Unified School District, where she focused on the writing development of English language learners while completing a doctorate from the UC Davis/CSU Fresno Joint Doctoral Program. Her dissertation, "An Investigation of How Writing in English Develops for Four Hmong High School Boys" (1997), grew from this work, as did a part-time lecturer position in the CSU Fresno School of Education.

A 19-year veteran of the San Joaquin Valley Writing Project, California Writing Project state network, and the National Writing Project, she brings her successes and passion for teaching writing to the UC Merced Writing Project and dedicates herself to empowering teachers and improving the writing development of all students. As a native resident of the San Joaquin Valley, as the child of Armenian immigrant parents, and as the wife of a local farmer, she is attuned to the culture and needs of valley students. These are the aspirations and qualifications she brings to her new position as director of the UC Merced Writing Project.

Patricia Wachholz and Lois Christensen, directors, Florida Gulf Coast Writing Project

Patricia Wachholz and Lois Christensen, Directors
Florida Gulf Coast Writing Project
Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers

Although both Patricia Wachholz and Lois Christensen began their careers as classroom teachers in the intermediate grades, both now find themselves teaching at Florida Gulf Coast University, home of the Florida Gulf Coast Writing Project.

Patricia Wachholz, in addition to her role as one of the directors for the writing project, is currently an associate professor of education in her third year at Florida Gulf Coast University. There she teaches adolescent literature, English methods, and intermediate and middle school literacy. She is also the chair for the Division of Educational Studies.

Wachholz's interest in the writing project can be traced back through much of her career. She taught middle school language arts in Jackson-ville, Florida, where she also received a master's degree in English education. In 1990, she moved to Tennessee where she taught English at Jack-son State Community College. Completing her doctoral studies at The University of Memphis, Wachholz taught English methods and adolescent literature at Lane College. During her five years at Lane, she headed the campuswide Writing Across the Curriculum program and also directed the Lane College Urban Writing Project (not affiliated with NWP) for two years. She has published several articles on writing self-efficacy beliefs and peer response groups.

Currently, Director Lois Christensen is an assistant professor in her fourth year at Florida Gulf Coast University where she teaches courses in curriculum and instruction, introduction to education, foundations of curriculum, principles of administration, and vocabulary. She was originally trained as a primary teacher, and spent 14 years in the Dubuque Community School District where she taught grades 4-6.

During these years, one of Christensen's goals was to increase her students' proficiency in writing. She was one of the first teachers in her district to experiment with class meetings devoted to editing, writing, and providing positive feedback to students from their peers. The successful project earned high praise from parents, who were amazed to find their children were interested in writing.

Christensen later entered into administration and served in several roles. Favorite among these were her roles as curriculum coordinator for language arts and as staff development coordinator. In these roles, she was able to work with teachers, to identify classroom needs, and to develop inservice workshops to respond to those needs. Her specialty areas are curriculum development, reading instruction, and authentic assessment.

Ron Sudol, director
Meadow Brook Writing Project

Ron Sudol, Director
Meadow Brook Writing Project
Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan

Ron Sudol has been teaching for 34 years, the last 24 of which he has spent at Oakland University in Michigan where he now directs the Meadow Brook Writing Project (MBWP). Although he started out as an Emily Dickinson scholar, he has gradually shifted his focus to rhetoric and composition.

At Oakland, he has directed the writing program for eight years and teaches composition, American studies, television criticism, and rhetorical criticism. His collection of essays, Revising, was published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) in the 1980s. It was followed by a textbook about writing with word processing called Textfiles: A Rhetoric for Word Processing (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987). He is also co-editor of three volumes of essays about literacy, the most recent of which, The Literacy Standard, is being published this year by Hampton Press.

Sudol is a member of the English Advisory Council of the College Board and has been a reader of advanced placement exams for 15 years. He conducts workshops on English language and composition and English vertical teams for the College Board. He has worked with the Michigan Department of Education on the development, implementation, and scoring of statewide writing assessments. Currently, he is reviewing materials and resources for AP Central, an internet site being developed to support teachers of advanced placement courses.

Sudol, who has been a long-time admirer of the writing project, welcomed the opportunity to extend it to the Detroit metropolitan area through MBWP.

J. Elaine White, Director, Live Oak Writing Project

J. Elaine White, Director
Live Oak Writing Project
University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast, Long Beach, Mississippi

J. Elaine White, Ph. D., is an assistant professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Gulf Coast in Long Beach, Mississippi. Previous to teaching at USM Gulf Coast, she served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and taught for 25 years in public schools. Her classroom experiences include teaching music for grades 1-12, coaching students in vocal solo and ensemble work, teaching English grades 9-12, developing honors English and advanced placement English programs, teaching adults in GED courses, and serving as districtwide curriculum director. She is listed in Who's Who Among America's Teachers, an honor awarded through student nominations and peer review.

White is a secondary English education specialist. She has taught undergraduate courses in reading/writing theory and application, language study, adolescent literature, and secondary English methods. She has also taught graduate courses in young adult literature and teacher action research. She was assistant to the director of the Oklahoma Writing Project at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and is currently director of the Live Oak Writing Project located at USM Gulf Coast, Mississippi. She has presented workshops and sessions for the Oklahoma Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English. She and Robert L. Wyatt (of the Oklahoma Writing Project) are authors of Making Your First Year A Success: The Secondary Teacher's Survival Guide, which will be published by Corwin Press this fall (2001). When not involved in educational activities, White writes poetry, works with children's choirs, plays organ, paints, and sails on the Mississippi Sound.

Tom Meyer and Mary Sawyer, directors, Hudson Valley Writing Project

Tom Meyer and Mary Sawyer, Directors
Hudson Valley Writing Project
SUNY at New Paltz, New York

Tom Meyer and Mary Sawyer are co-directing the Hudson Valley Writing Project (HVWP) in Upstate New York, but this is not their first collaboration. Before this, they developed and co-taught three courses, and conducted research together. This academic year they will be making regional and national presentations with secondary teachers from the Hudson Valley at conferences sponsored by the National Council of Teaches of English (NCTE) and the New York State English Council (NYSEC).

Tom Meyer, a former high school English teacher and naturalist, became a Bay Area Writing Project (California) teacher-consultant in 1991. More recently, he completed a doctorate at Stanford University, with a dissertation chronicling a teacher-research group that he facilitated for six years.

Meyer, currently a professor of secondary education at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, teaches "Introduction to Curriculum and Assessment" and "Principles of Teacher Research." He came to New Paltz after 15 years in the San Francisco Bay Area. When asked how he has managed the coast-to-coast transition, he commented, "New Paltz is an Our Town with a river running through it. It quietly gets you hooked on the pleasures of safe Halloweens, terrific bike terrain on and off road, and, yes, four seasons." With Mary Sawyer and co-director Bonnie Kaplan, Meyer anticipates not only overseeing the instruction and leadership of the Hudson Valley Writing Project, but, in turn, documenting and researching the project's efforts.

Mary Sawyer, a UC Berkeley graduate, formerly taught high school English in California's Napa Valley. She braved the cold of Albany, New York, to have the opportunity to engage in collaborative research with secondary teachers under the direction of Arthur Applebee, Judith Langer, and Alan Purves at SUNY Albany's federally funded Center on English Learning and Achievement.

After receiving her Ph.D., Sawyer accepted a position at SUNY New Paltz where she coordinates the English education program and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in language teaching and learning. She loves teaching at the small college, which has been committed to teacher preparation since its founding in 1828, and she is delighted to have been recently granted tenure and promotion. In addition to her research with Tom Meyer on ways to better support novice teachers, she is involved with researching the impact of New York's new assessments on English programs and classroom curriculum. Sawyer is looking forward to developing the Hudson Valley Writing Project so that it will provide the kind of inspired support and leadership opportunities for teachers that she herself experienced in California's Bay Area.

Rebecca Kaminski, director, Upstate Writing Project

Rebecca A. Kaminski, Director
Upstate Writing Project
Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina

Rebecca A. Kaminski, director of the Upstate Writing Project at Clemson University, is also an assistant professor in the School of Education at Clemson University (CU), South Carolina. She teaches undergraduate courses in elementary language arts methods and curriculum; graduate-level courses in literacy, including language arts, writing, and reading; doctoral courses in elementary curriculum design and development and teacher research. She also serves on numerous doctoral committees related to literacy research; is the founder and faculty liaison for CUCTE (student affiliate to NCTE); is president of the CU Phi Delta Kappa chapter; and serves as editor of the CU Kappan journal.

Kaminski's current work and her previous experience as a school-district administrator in charge of literacy programs, a reading specialist, and a second grade teacher certainly prepared her for the role of writing project director, but her involvement with the National Writing Project actually grew out of various associations with many of the teachers who now form the Upstate Writing Project. After visiting the Northern Virginia Writing Project's summer institute in 2000, she was sure that many of her local teachers would want to participate in an institute based on the NWP model of teachers teaching teachers.

That opportunity came when Kaminski was asked to write a proposal for a new NWP site at Clemson University. Many CU and other local teachers had been involved with the Clemson Writing Project for years, but this site lost funding in 2000. They were thrilled that Kaminski's proposal brought the Upstate Writing Project into being. For her part, Kaminski is quick to cite the tremendous support these groups have given her.

Under Kaminski's guidance, the Upstate Writing Project held its first summer institute in June, hosting an "outstanding group of 20 teachers who worked together to form a lasting community of writers and learners." Kaminski sees this as progress toward her vision for the site: an outstanding writing project that will offer both a professional community for area teachers and writing programs that will support writers of different ages and abilities.

Kathy Albertson, director, Georgia Southern Writing Project, third from right. Also pictured, left to right: Pat Fox, director, Coastal Georgia Writing Project; Carol Tateishi, director, Bay Area Writing Project (CA); and from the Georgia Southern Writing Project, Alisa Daniel, co-director; Laura Milner; and Ann Crowther.

Kathy Albertson, Director
Georgia Southern Writing Project
Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA

"Kathy Albertson has shown me how to set goals and work toward them," says Alisa Daniel, a co-director of the Georgia Southern Writing Project.

From even a cursory look at Kathy Albertson's life path, this is apparent. After earning a master's degree in literature from Georgia Southern University in 1990, she recently began doctoral work at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She plans to get her degree in composition/TESOL, a move that will augment her college-level teaching experience, which has focused on developmental studies and first-year composition.

A participant in the summer institute at the Coastal Georgia Writing Project in 1996, Albertson wrote her final "position paper" that summer, proposing the creation of a new site in Statesboro to her dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Although the site would not happen for another five years, the first satellite summer institute was held in 1998.

Now that Georgia Southern Writing Project is a site, Albertson has bigger goals. She plans to use the site to help veteran teachers at rural schools stay energized, supporting them through new teaching strategies, a listserv, and professional development opportunities. At the same time, she acknowledges the site's challenges: rural schools have little funding for inservice or travel to professional activities; the schools are struggling to meet new standards for smaller class sizes while dealing with tremendous teacher shortages; and the summer institute has competition, including state-mandated training. But even as she acknowledges these challenges, Kathy Albertson recognizes them for what they are: obstacles that can be overcome.

To learn more, find out how to start a local site.

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