Dr. Michael Sampson, Dean of The School of Education, St. John’s University
By Lydia Liebman
Recently, St. John’s University appointed the impressive Dr. Michael Sampson to be the new dean of the School of Education. Sampson has had an extremely diverse career as an educator, academic leader, and award-winning author.
Sampson described himself as an extremely avid reader having read every book in his school library by the fifth grade. In high school, Sampson was active in the Boy Scouts of America and a star athlete; as a senior he was the captain of the Tom Bean Tomcats football team and was named to the Class B Texas State All Star Team. Sampson credits both of those experiences as being essential to his professional development. “Scouting is about service,” said Sampson, “and being an athlete helps you understand team work and how to work together.” Upon graduating from high school, Sampson received a scholarship to attend East Texas State University, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science with a teaching endorsement.
A first generation college student, Sampson worked throughout his university years. “I was driving a school bus for the district,” described Sampson, “and I would get up at 5 am every day and drive the route and then go to class. Through this work I got to know the superintendent of the Commerce Public Schools and when I graduated college he offered me a job!” Sampson began his career teaching kindergarten and eventually became a reading specialist, teaching all the reading classes at the elementary school. After earning his Master’s degree and later a Ph.D. in reading from University of Arizona, he accepted a faculty position at Texas A&M University- Commerce and eventually rose to become the department head and director of the doctoral program.
Throughout this period, Sampson published a number of professional books and textbooks about literacy and reading. Also during this time, his collaboration with children’s book writer and educator Bill Martin Jr. began. Together they published 21 books, many of which have gone on to receive awards and become New York Times Best Sellers including Chicka Chicka 123, Panda Bear, Panda Bear What Do You See? and I Pledge Allegiance. His love for reading and writing has been the driving force behind his work as an educator and academic. “It is my goal to create engaging, likeable books. The reader and the text must engage together. When I was a kindergarten teacher I noticed that the kids weren’t really “getting” reading,” said Sampson, “but when we would do Mother Goose they could get into the rhythm and I realized that was the key.” Sampson’s books use rhythm and rhyme heavily and are about topics children are typically interested in like sports and animals. “Our research has shown that kids learn to read faster when they read pattern books,” said Sampson.
After nearly 25 years at Texas A&M, Sampson began writing full time and traveling the world doing speaking engagements and author visits. “I traveled all over the United States and then spent time speaking to education departments in England, Italy and Germany,” explained Sampson, “It was a great life but I still felt somewhat incomplete so I moved to St. Petersburg and started teaching at the University of South Florida.” After three years, Sampson became the dean of Southern Connecticut State University. In 2012, he became dean of the College of Education at Northern Arizona University and as of June of this year, moved to New York City to become the new dean of St. John’s University.
Sampson has unparalleled accomplishments as a writer, an educator and academic. While at Texas A&M, he received the Christa McAuliffe Award for Exemplary Program in Teacher Education due to his innovative teaching techniques and student teaching programs. “Preparing teachers to serve the community should be a mission everywhere,” said Sampson. He is a firm believer in partnerships and has brought partnership programs to the many institutions he’s worked with. “The experience I had at Texas A&M carried into my other assignments. In Connecticut we worked with central administration and selected three magnet schools to put our program in. In Arizona, I did the same thing with several American Indian Reservations,” described Sampson, “we would have reservation kids come tour the campus weekly and then our faculty would do small group instruction. Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve implemented the concept of teacher preparations as a partnership with schools and the university.” Sampson plans on bringing his partnership programs to St. Johns and the tri state area. He cites Northern Arizona as an example as the program there has reached across state lines to California. “I want to create partnerships with different school districts here. There’s a program I’m working on right now with a school in Forest Hills that helps us train teachers over one year and we offer them professional development for their teachers in writing, STEM subjects, and reading comprehension,” he said. He intends for the pilot program to run next year.
Along with his duties as dean, Sampson does weekly author visits to schools where he spends time reading to and talking with students in kindergarten through second grade. Sampson frequently visits St. John’s new campus at Astor Place where a school of education is housed to hold author performances and book talks. “Serving the community is so important at St. Johns and outreach to the poor is a priority of ours over national ranking and research,” Sampson said. Next week Sampson will be reading at a homeless shelter.
Sampson sees a bright future ahead for St. Johns. In one year he hopes to see the university piloting true partnerships with schools in the five boroughs and Long Island on the way to full implementation. In five years, he would like for most of the training of St. John’s teachers to be carried out by teachers in the schools. “I really want to have a totally ingrained partnership with the schools and teachers together,” said Sampson, “I think teachers know more about what children need.”#