Student Stories

Annette Freiheit

Woman for the Job: Annette Freiheit, EdD ’17

In a nation where less than a sixth of all school superintendents are female and a state—Minnesota—where that number is even lower, the appointment of a female superintendent—especially one as clearly deserving as Annette Freiheit, Doctorate in Education (EdD) ’17—is one to be celebrated.

Freiheit was a teacher for five years before she decided to pursue her administrative licensure to become a principal. She worked as a principal in Hayfield, Minnesota, for fourteen years before being appointed the superintendent of schools in Pine City, Minnesota, in the spring of 2016. That appointment had been a long time coming.

“When they called and offered me the job, it just felt right,” Freiheit said. “Based on how I interacted with the board and how they responded to me, I could tell. And there’s so much to that gut feeling. Some of the biggest decisions should be made with your heart.”

And it is clear the Freiheit has a lot of heart for what she does; coming from a school district where 32 percent of students received reduced rate lunches, Freiheit has battled the effects of poverty in education for almost her entire career. She did not just act as a principal; she acted as a community leader, giving students an oasis from the various stresses in their lives and parents an atmosphere in which they felt comfortable, regardless of their own school experiences.

“People are people, no matter their situation,” Freiheit said. “We all have basic needs and desires, and the desire to belong and be a part of something is important. For some kids, school is the only place where they can truly feel that.”

The challenges that Freiheit faced as a principal gave her a unique perspective to bring into her cohort when she decided to pursue her doctorate in education at Hamline—a program she chose because of its cohort design. Many of her fellow cohort members knew well the difficulties faced in urban education, but very few of them had experience in an impoverished, rural setting. Still, each of them brought in a unique viewpoint that blended with the others to create a rich learning environment.

“We all challenged each other and what we thought, but we did it in such a respectful way that we could agree to disagree and respect each other’s thought patterns,” Freiheit said. “We pushed each other, and there was a great level of comfort knowing that we could do that. I gained some really strong friendships from the program.”

One issue that Freiheit came into the doctoral program determined to learn more about is that of teaching reading. From Freiheit’s own experience as a teacher, she knew that many teachers feel underprepared to teach reading, and she was determined to gain a better understanding of how to do so in order to help her school’s teachers better serve their students.

Freiheit gained this understanding by completing the coursework for Hamline’s K-12 reading licensure program as part of her elective coursework in the EdD program.

“If I had it my way, every teacher would come out of an initial licensing program with this certificate,” Freiheit said. “Eighty percent of what we do revolves around reading and literacy; we need to understand what a strong reading program looks like.”

Coincidentally, reading played in integral role in Freiheit looking into superintendency. While she had been entertaining thoughts of the next step of her career, it was a book that led her in the superintendent direction.

A member of her EdD cohort lent Freiheit a biography on Ella Flagg Young, who made history as the first female superintendent in the United States when she was appointed superintendent of schools in Chicago in 1909. In a time rife with pushback against women’s rights, Freiheit was inspired by Young’s determination to break through the status quo.

After reading about Ella Flagg Young, she decided to originally base her dissertation on women’s roles (or lack thereof) in superintendent positions, which started the ball rolling toward her own career change.

Though Freiheit changed her dissertation topic to focus on the emotional intelligence of leaders and how that impacts organizational culture—a topic close to Freiheit, because, as she said, her success as a principal was based on how she was able to mature and grow as a leader emotionally in her fourteen years in Hayfield—she never lost her fascination with the role of women in the top-level administrative positions in education—positions that have been ingrained through history as men’s jobs.

It took two years of trying to navigate that historically male-oriented system, but Freiheit knows she has grown through that time. Now, stepping into the role of superintendent of schools in Pine City, Freiheit knows that the position is right for her; she knows that she is truly the woman for the job.

To learn more about Hamline’s Doctorate in Education program or its K-12 reading licensure program, please visit the School of Education website or contact Graduate Admission.