From Getting Kicked Out of the Classroom to Running the Whole District with Dr. Reva Cosby

Dr. Reva Cosby is the Superintendent of Trotwood-Madison City Schools in Trotwood, Ohio. Since starting her role as a superintendent, Dr. Cosby has made significant improvements to both the behavior of her students and the curriculum that is used to prepare them for success.

Dr. Cosby received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia before earning her master’s degree in Education from Wright State University. She then went on to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Dayton.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Dr. Reva Cosby discusses her early career experience as a high school teacher
  • What inspired Dr. Cosby to pursue her doctoral degree while working full-time?
  • Dr. Cosby talks about the importance of perseverance and passion when completing a dissertation
  • The new teaching opportunities that have been created due to COVID-19
  • How Dr. Cosby pulled her school district back from the verge of academic distress
  • Dr. Cosby shares the important opportunities she has been presented with since earning her doctoral degree

In this episode…

What’s preventing you from pursuing your doctoral degree? It may seem impossible to go back to school and earn your degree when you also have a family, career, and the pressures of everyday life to juggle. As Dr. Russell Strickland says, there’s never really a “good” time to go back to school and earn your degree—so why not start now?

While working as a high school teacher, Dr. Reva Cosby, the Superintendent of Trotwood-Madison City Schools, realized that she had more to offer to her community, but didn’t have the title to do so. Because of this, she decided to go back to school and pursue her doctoral degree at the age of 40. Dr. Cosby ended up completing the dissertation process and earning the coveted title, all while working a full-time job and raising her children.

Join Dr. Russell Strickland in this episode of An Unconventional Life as he talks with Dr. Reva Cosby about her journey from working as a high school teacher to earning her doctoral degree and becoming a successful superintendent. Stay tuned as Dr. Cosby discusses the reason she pursued her degree, her advice for students that are currently working on their dissertation, and the impact that her new title and expertise has made on the lives of her students.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done!
  1. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.

Intro  0:03

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percenters out there, who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach and more. Dr. Russell Strickland.

Dr. Russell Strickland  0:29

Hello, this is Dr. Russell Strickland, host of An Unconventional Life Podcast where we talk to the crazy 1% who not only earned their doctoral degrees, but went on to use them in exciting, unusual and unconventional ways. Today I have with me Dr. Reva Cosby, who is superintendent at Trotwood-Madison school district in Trotwood, Ohio. Dr. Cosby has sorted her early career as a teacher in the classroom, and that because there are classrooms everywhere that afforded her the opportunity to kind of follow her husband around when he had to move for his career as an executive in immediate, he worked as a VP of sales. And those of you who are familiar with corporate structures, they often like to move those executives around. Well, she was luckily able to follow him around as a teacher. But when she began to realize that she was reaching the ceiling as to what she could do in the classroom and wanted to be able to contribute in other ways, she decided a little bit later in life to go back and get earn her doctoral degree. From there, she’s gone on to be a grant writer. She’s worked in a school that was actually doubled as a psych hospital. We’ll talk to her a little bit about that. And then as a superintendent, she literally pulled her district back from the verge of academic distress. So Dr. Cosby, I am glad to have you here. Before we get started with our conversation, I just want to read our sponsor message real quick. This episode, as always, is sponsored by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done, we help adult doctoral students who may be struggling with their dissertation to get things back on track and get you to graduation as soon as possible. If you haven’t yet started your dissertation, and you just want someone to lead you through the process so that you don’t have to endure all the slings and arrows that you see your colleagues enduring. definitely reach out to us at Now, Dr. Cosby. I’m very excited for our call. First of all, you and I met through Dr. David Braswell, who was a guest on our show. Not long ago, Dr. Braswell runs UpSlope Solutions he’s available at Tell me a little bit about kind of your early career and what led to you deciding to pursue your doctoral degree.

Dr. Reva Cosby  2:48

Okay, well, my early career was very traditional at the onset, you know, of course, I went to college and and that in itself, you know, took some doing it wasn’t necessarily expensive. In my situation with my family, we had five children, two years four, and parents who were not educators or had not even went to college. So I started out teaching high school, which I loved. I loved being in high school. And then when I got married, and as you mentioned, I started to follow my husband around, we actually lived in St. Louis, Missouri. We moved to Chicago within three years, we were back in Virginia, which was home, and we left there after three more years in Atlanta. And finally, we landed here in the Dayton, Ohio area. Well, throughout that time, I was teaching and that’s why we felt that you as you know, teachers don’t make the money that people in business make. So it was okay for me to just follow him around, you know, and it there came a point though, when I realized that I don’t want to keep starting over I don’t want to be the person that has to, you know, take that position of teaching even though I do Love it while I was doing I loved it so much that I actually had to be kicked out of teaching to pursue what I could do with my doctorate because I was still teaching after I had gotten my doctorate

Dr. Russell Strickland  4:11

that goes getting kicked out of teaching.

Dr. Reva Cosby  4:13

Well, it was it was really interesting. I loved my principal, I knew that she cared a lot about me and thought that the fact that I was the only person in the building, including her as my principal who had a doctorate, and so she said, You have to get out of here, you should be doing something more. And so she basically was saying, I’m not going to renew you, you need to find something. So I started to look and I ended up teaching at Wilmington College and Wilmington, Ohio. And so you

Dr. Russell Strickland  4:43

don’t really get it in this day and age managers who can be so selfless, who will take the good ones and say, no, we’re not going to. We know you got bigger and better things that you can offer this world and a lot of people be selfishly just supporting you and saying she’s our best

Dr. Reva Cosby  5:01

Yeah, no and I do, I do know that that is what was going on. She cared a lot about me and wanted to see me do more. So,

Dr. Russell Strickland  5:10

that’s awesome. So, um, so you went from from teaching to, to deciding Okay, I’m gonna go back I’m gonna get my doctoral degree as an adult who is still working full time How did that process work for you? What was it like to return to school so to speak, right?

Dr. Reva Cosby  5:29

Well, I’ve always I am that traditional lifelong learner learner. I really love being a student. I think I made my husband feel false. Like when are you going to stop being a student and you know, actually start doing more of the work but so going back to get my doctor It was really because we have been moving every three years. And I was concerned that we would move again and so I felt like I needed to have something I could hold on to and, and they can take things from you. This is what my parents would say, but they cannot take your education. So that’s sort of what made me decide to pursue my doctorate. I also do love doing research. So that part for me was interesting and, and I was already dealing with it choice as an educator that had just come up the whole idea that money could be given to students and they will go and get a voucher and could go to a private schools. And so that’s what I ended up writing my dissertation about. And so it was it was interesting to me. So I, I did it for several reasons. One, I as I said, I wanted to have something that I would carry with me if we were to move. I also was very interested in the research that I was working on. So that made it interesting, but you know, life really did intervene. I had two children at that point. One, she’s, she’s brilliant. She has her master’s now in counseling, but she also has cerebral palsy. So I ended up having to spend, you know, a lot of time with her. And then my son was five years younger. So I was extremely busy as a parent and as a wife. And so I wouldn’t even get around to doing my work until like 11 o’clock at night. So I was like working and, and writing from 11 to three, and then I would have to get up as early as like, six to be at work by 730 you know, that type of way for a while, but I really am glad I did it, I would not, you know, change that and it ultimately has been worth it. But it was very difficult, you know, because you have to take care of your family and you do have to do the work. I didn’t realize I had to tell you this little story, which I think is interesting when I realized that I could do it. Because I’ve always seen people who have doctorates as like on this pedestal right and the average person really do this, you know, I went over to a supermarket. superintendent at the time, I went to his house, he had twins and another child and his wife was sitting there with all these books around her. And I was like, What? What are you doing? And she was working on her dissertation. And and the kids were young, and they were running around a dog. And I literally said to myself, if she can do this, I can do this. Because you know, she was busy.

Dr. Russell Strickland  8:24

Well, it’s important for folks to understand, particularly the folks that we work with a dissertation, they tend to be adults who are going back to school. And when I say going back to school, I don’t mean leaving your career, you’re working full time you got kids, you have got a mortgage, you got all those things going on. But yet you also are going to go back to school and you’re going to go through this doctoral degree process and ultimately, the dissertation process. And the point is that there’s no good time to do this,

Dr. Reva Cosby  8:51


Dr. Russell Strickland  8:52

But in fact, there’s no bad time to do it either.

Dr. Reva Cosby  8:54

Right? Do it

Dr. Russell Strickland  8:56

in your 20s or your 30s or 40s or 50s. We’ve had students that working in their 60s and 70s because they wanted to teach at the college level on upon retirement, that’s all he wanted to do. So if I can just punch this ticket, I can teach in retirement.

Dr. Reva Cosby  9:09

And I think that that’s important. I’ll tell you another thing that also spurred me on and some people who are working on their dissertations now may want to reflect on this. I have four siblings, three of them are attorneys and one worked at Xerox so I’m very competitive. You know, when I hit 40, and they were like doing all these things, and I was teaching which is a noble profession, do not get me wrong. And I know I was helping students and all but as I felt the need to also one up them and and so continuing and finishing my dissertation became a really important thing for me to do

Dr. Russell Strickland  9:48

as well. I can certainly understand wanting to make sure that that when you go with for Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners

Dr. Reva Cosby  9:58

exactly You have

Dr. Russell Strickland  10:00

a dissertation coming along? It’s almost done. It’s almost

Dr. Reva Cosby  10:04

right. That’s right. When I turned 40, and that’s when I, you know, had applied and was accepted. And people would ask me, Well, why are you doing this so late, you know, in your career, you’re 40 years old and, and I knowing what I know, faster time, but at the time, I really did understand that I was hopefully going to turn 50 in 10 years and so would I be Reva Cosby or would I be Dr. Reva Cosby a lot to me to make that happen? And it didn’t take the full 10 years and, and I remember though, on my birthday, when I turned 40 me my mother and my sister did a girls trip to Miami. And here I was on the beach with books all around me having to study because it was my first class and I was going to be prepared.

Dr. Russell Strickland  10:54

That’s awesome. That’s all Yeah.

Dr. Russell Strickland  10:57

I think that that that drive and and then identification I think was really important. A lot of our students that I that I talked with on a regular basis, they don’t necessarily articulate it quite the way that you did. But they have somewhere in them, this notion that I am doctor, whatever, right and and it’s part of their identity, even though they don’t necessarily say it that way. They they think of themselves as being an expert and being an authority and, and having put in the time, the effort and all these sorts of things. And they just have to actually go through the degree program to realize it, to actualize it. So I think that’s an important thing to that folks. Note that you’re, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. If you don’t. If you want to do this thing if you don’t pursue it, and if you are pursuing it, too, you need to finish it.

Dr. Reva Cosby  11:47

Finish it. I think we all know people who because of their level of expertise because of what they’re doing in a community, they are mistakenly called doctor and they don’t have it and I think you’re right is it It must be a little heartbreaking to have to say no, that’s not my title. Yeah, you know, if you don’t, then you are feeling like am I misrepresenting who I am? But we know, you know, perseverance and passion, and all are what you need to get it done. A lot of people think that there’s this level of intelligence and Trust me, I know we’re all intelligent, but it’s not like you have to be a brain surgeon, you know, to make this happen. I think you have to want it and you have to be willing to put in and persevere through.

Dr. Russell Strickland  12:36

Absolutely. I agree with you. 100%. There are, I don’t know about I don’t know a lot of brain surgeons Exactly. But I know a lot of medical doctors that I’d say they’re not the sharpest tacks in the drawer. In the work, they can do the job. I know. I know some medical doctors who I think I’ll let that person is quick. That’s a smart person and others who am like, Alright, well you know, the stuff

Dr. Reva Cosby  13:01

But I do think that it’s important for people to understand that, yes, anyone can pursue this. And if you stick with it, we literally in my community where I grew up, had on my on my blog, as I said, my three siblings are attorneys and my sister actually went on and she’s a judge. And my brother is going to be the first president of the Bar Association in the state of Virginia. That’s African American. Oh, really proud of him. That’ll happen next year, you know, how you move up. So they’ve done really well, but we also had an astronaut on our block. Leland Melvin is an astronaut. He’s actually been out in space. And it’s like, so is there a special water running through our community? It wasn’t, it was that belief that we can all succeed and we had that in our community. So I do think that you know, if we provide the right experience for our students, then everybody understands that they have those same opportunities. You can be an astronaut. You know what President Obama, you can be a president. And and now we have the potential of an African American vice president. So, you know, the world is changing and, and people and we have mentioned socioeconomically regardless of whether you’re black or white, oftentimes, we feel like we can’t be in these positions because we’re underrepresented. And so I like to just say, yes, you can do this. Right.

Dr. Russell Strickland  14:39

And for context, we’re recording this right now in in August when Joe Biden has just recently announced Kamala Harris as his VP as his running mate. So we’ll all see what happens here in the next at some days as far as that Yes, sir. And, but I think what you mentioned is really important, a lot of a lot of folks feel what’s what’s a psychologist referred to as the imposter syndrome. I’m not really that guy. But if you do the work, and you put in the time and the effort and you earn the degree, you are that guy. So yeah, it’s really important. Perseverance is the main thing. But then of course, you have to know what you’re doing. You have to, if you persevere in the wrong direction, you’re not going to get where you want to go. And that’s, that’s one of the things that we find students often need some help with. But tell me now what after so you pursued this doctoral degree, you earn the doctoral degree. what came next for you after getting kicked out of the classroom? I hear benevolent a principal what kind of things did that allow you to do that you couldn’t have done before that maybe maybe you didn’t even realize were possibilities for you? But I were you, your your degree.

Dr. Reva Cosby  15:56

When I started to look for a job I wasn’t sure Sure where even to initially start. So I did start looking at universities. And I ended up as I said, it Wilmington College. And since I’ve been a teacher, I did the teaching part. And I also manage the student teachers there. And I really liked it. But for college professors and things, you know, in my 40s, was relatively young. And so I was told by a former superintendent who was the head of the department at the time, that if I had an opportunity to get back into K 12, and if I wanted to do that, then he thought there would be opportunity. So I started looking for that. And that’s how I came upon the grant writing, and and grant writing, you know, for school districts is very important because it allows them to have the money to do things that they may not normally be able to do. And actually, it was when we were doing, you know, smaller learning communities. I actually helped write the Gates grant that brought over $3 million to the district of Dayton, Ohio. Do that it was very important. Yes,

Dr. Russell Strickland  17:03

we’re sitting here right now. My kids are getting ready to go back to school in a couple of days here in the midst of COVID so they’re not actually going to school schools coming to them. And the district’s providing Chromebooks for everyone, and I’m sure there was a grant writer somewhere.

Dr. Reva Cosby  17:20

Not in we that is how we’ve gotten our connection, our one to one connectivity. We have grant money, philanthropy, money, dollars that you know, people have given us and so our students are one to one for this situation. And I believe that that’s what we need to do at this time for the safety aspect of bringing our students back, which is the ultimate goal.

Dr. Russell Strickland  17:44

Absolutely. Yeah, we might. So my son is a is a rising freshman. I don’t know if you call him rising still when he’s got three days to high school, but he says so disappointed when I told him near the end of the school year last year, that very likely he wasn’t going to be setting foot in the building. Early in his high school career he was he was very upset and marching bands been canceled and he wants to be on the swim and dive team and we’re worried that’s coming up towards the late fall. We’re worried whether that’s going to happen or not. So he’s upset about the things are being taken from him in his high school career. And I, I can I can sympathize, certainly, but to stay safe in this day and age is so very important. And I think

Dr. Reva Cosby  18:27

fun is the creativity of teachers, I believe there’s gonna be a lot of virtual opportunities, but then to participate in band and to, you know, find places where they can maybe swim and send the video to a coach and say, This is my speed, you know, verify it. And so I think that there’s always a silver lining, and I believe that silver lining to this is going to be that we’re going to learn a whole new way of teaching our children. Well, I know you’ve heard the analogy of it for when Rip Van Winkle woke up, the only thing he’d read At night was school.

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:03

That’s what changed

Dr. Reva Cosby  19:05

  1. So now it’s changing. And I do believe having my doctorate has allowed me the opportunity to have a voice in what this change is going to look like. And so for that I’m very grateful that I did stick with it and, and finish.

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:22

Yeah, one of the one of my students who

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:27

is from DC and swims in those circles, taught me I learned all these little sayings from from working with different people around the country. And, and she said, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.

Dr. Reva Cosby  19:39

Yeah, that’s a good one.

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:41

And and so I like the fact that that that’s one thing that doctoral degree certainly affords us, you can pretty much walk into any room and get a seat at the table, whatever it is they’re doing.

Dr. Reva Cosby  19:51

That’s right. I mean,

Dr. Russell Strickland  19:53

well tell me a little bit more about how this work. I remember you mentioning that as a superintendent Initially or one of your, your first posts as a superintendent, you actually kind of pulled your school district back from the verge of academic distress. And I know you know, so many of our school districts do have those those problems where they everything that’s going on in the world, it makes it so difficult to really succeed. Tell me a little bit about that, that situation and how that worked for you in your school district.

Dr. Reva Cosby  20:24

Okay. Yeah. So when I started my first superintendency, I was in Mount healthy Ohio, and they’re the school district, their grades, we were a df school. And so if you Yes, if you’re in that position for too many years, and it’s a state takeover is what happens and your superintendent is put out a position and they bring in what they call a CEO who comes in and can do anything that they want. Basically, even the school board local control is taken away. So you do not want to find yourself in academic distress. You get the opportunity to work with what they call a state support team. And you have to make changes, you know, to your districts to try to improve your rates. And so we did, we developed a five year strategic plan that everyone got on to is very simplistic with just three basic things that, you know, we wanted to focus on, and which was, of course, our curriculum, and then our social emotional learning for our students, you know, and also then community engagement, which seems so basic, but we really honed in on those things, and we were able to improve our scores, and we were able to move out of academic distress or even the concern for it, we thank goodness never got into it. So I was very proud of that work. And I think it was beneficial to my staff because, you know, you want to have pride in what you’re doing. You don’t want to always be worried about will I have my job next year. So that was one of the things that I was able to do and, and I do believe that I was able to actually get that position because I hadn’t had a chance to share with you. But I did not go the traditional route to become a superintendent in a school district, which is, you know, you you are a teacher, and then you’re maybe assistant principal, become a principal, and then you do some type of central office work, right? Either your HR personnel curriculum or something like that. Well, I was a principal for eight years at a major High School in our area, and I went directly into a superintendency. And, you know, I do believe the only reason I got that opportunity to apply was because I was Dr. Reva Cosby, I really believe that and the interesting thing about it is, of course, I’m the same person, you know that and I know that, but I would have never gotten that opportunity because I didn’t have that traditional central office experience.

Dr. Russell Strickland  23:02

You’re a different person. Well, that’s important right here. You’re not Dr. Cosby to your husband. Right?

Dr. Reva Cosby  23:07

Right. Exactly when. So that actually, in one day, I mean, it’s really the neatest thing in the world, you know, is to receive that degree. But but on Saturday, you know, you don’t have it and on Sunday you do and you’re Dr. Cosby. But it changes your opportunities like you not believe

Dr. Russell Strickland  23:30

  1. And, and that’s, that’s, that’s huge. But there’s opportunities aren’t just for you. Because with the school district, you mentioned, okay, you’re able to help the teachers have a little bit more sense of security and pride in their work. What does it do for your students? How did that change lives for your students?

Dr. Reva Cosby  23:49

It definitely did because, as I said, so many things would have been taken away from them if we had went into academic distress. So now I have opportunity To not only, like you said build that pride in the school that they go to and allow them to be, you know, able to say I’m a Mt. Healthy grad, and that’s important means something. But also, I was able to to refocus back on one of the things that I felt really did not help our district. We did not have a preschool. And so the community had a lot of childcare centers. But childcare where children are literally taken care of, is a good thing because you don’t want your child in place. You don’t know that they were not learning anything during those most formative years when they’re young. So I was able then to go back and use their money to build this preschool. And so that’s going to make all the difference in the world. If students get too far behind, then it’s almost impossible to catch up. So all of these things have worked together and I do feel very proud of the fact that I left Mt. Healthy better than I do. Then it was when

Dr. Russell Strickland  25:00

I hear, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. But that’s something that I think that there’s a lesson there for folks that are pursuing their dissertations right now that some people think, you know, I’m being selfish, I’m taking from my family. During this time when you are in a sense, it is a commitment for everybody in the in the household. But you’re really being selfish. If you have these talents. And you have this vision and you have this, this urge to serve, you’re really being selfish when you don’t earn that doctoral degree because you’re, you’re, you’re taking away from people, your best service, your your, your highest level of impact. And, and that’s something that I find a lot of our students and particularly female students, it seems to be just a thing psychologically for women, that they that they have this complex that I don’t want to put myself first I don’t want to focus on me, but earning your doctoral degree isn’t just you focusing on you, it’s helping you to serve so many more people in this world and in a way that’s, you know, helpful to you too and helpful to your family. And this is one of those positive feedback loops where everybody gets better when you when you make this investment in yourself. So it’s

Dr. Reva Cosby  26:17

part of mine. Part of getting my doctorate completed, was I had to work on campus. So I actually didn’t work on campus. And it was sort of a trade off financially that I was being paid for. I was able to take my classes I didn’t take anything from my family, but I wasn’t putting anything in at the time. Whereas when I was teaching I was putting in and I did wonder, should I be doing this, but having a supportive support system that supports you, my husband, my children, and I did want my children to see me doing this work. I wanted them to see me putting this in and and for me As a mother it has paid off. Both of them have their masters I have to get them going on doctorates, but my children have completed their masters in their a counselor and one who’s in higher ed. So yeah, yeah. And I do believe it’s because they saw that I didn’t have opportunity. Neither of my parents went to college, but they wanted to make sure that the five of us did, because he didn’t want us to work. What they said as hard as they did, but I will tell you now, I think when my dad came home from the foundry, he just let it go. He didn’t like a horror and being a superintendent comes home with you, you know,

Dr. Russell Strickland  27:41

right. Now that’s, that’s awesome. It is absolutely. It’s another benefit to you working on your own doctoral degree is that you’re paying that forward to the next generation. They see that work. They they norm it normalizes because that’s something that so many of us don’t have is A lot of us don’t even know anyone else with a doctoral degree. Because there’s only 1% of the population, right? If you happen to swim in those circles, you might know a few people. But it’s not normal by any stretch of the imagination, going to grocery stores normal, right? kids that drive you crazy sometimes and make you proud. Other times is normal. Sitting up late at night or getting up first thing in the morning work on your dissertation isn’t normal, and normalize that for your kids is doing them a great service as well. So every point,

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.

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