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Faculty Spotlight: Donna Jahnke, Ph.D.

Donna Jahnke, Ph.D., retired superintendent of Ladue School District, has returned to the classroom—this time teaching students at Saint Louis University's School of Education. 


 Jahnke joined SLU’s School of Education in Fall 2019 as an assistant professor in the educational leadership program. Prior to this, she spent over 25 years working in the Ladue School District. Her positions included classroom teacher, Director of Community Services, Principal of Reed Elementary School, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, and Superintendent of Schools.

Jahnke explained that she knew when she retired from being a school superintendent that she wanted to, “teach at the university level, give back to the educational community, and encourage young teachers and administrators in the field.” SLU was her first choice for pursuing such a position because she earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership here in 2001, and explained, “I appreciate the excellent reputation SLU has earned in the community and believe in the approach to educating our students which includes scholarly learning coupled with the practical application of concepts taught."

Strong leadership components are embedded in every aspect of the program, which is essential to developing effective leaders in education. I feel fortunate to be a part of the School of Education and educational leadership team at SLU." 

Donna Jahnke, Ph.D. 

Jahnke’s current teaching interests involve district administration, principalship, ethics, school community and politics, special education administration, leadership, and superintendency. She has taught undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral classes and stated that, “students at every level are simply outstanding. This is a great environment for learning and leading from both the student and faculty standpoint.”

Her research interests include topics such as intervention programs for students, women in the superintendency, and special education support and intervention programs. Currently, Jahnke is working with a school district that has recently implemented non-traditional programming that is focused on a proactive approach to intervention and support, with the aim of mitigating the achievement gap at the middle and high school levels. She is examining the impact of student selection, staffing, training, and programming to determine the effect on student achievement and school success.

In addition, Jahnke has an interest in the topic of women in the superintendency. She is currently working with two groups to analyze and encourage women in this leadership role, and she regularly participates in networking opportunities for women leaders in and out of the education community. She is on the planning team for a “Lady Leaders Mix-Mingle-Network Event,” which is designed to gather information from women in educational leadership positions who do not see themselves in the superintendent role. Jahnke explained that this initial engagement will lead to a deeper research study on why women often don't pursue the superintendency, and how they can be encouraged to do so. She also serves on another leadership planning team which works to support women currently in the role of superintendent, and she commented that she is hopeful research will also emerge from her work with that program.

Finally, Jahnke has an interest in recreating her dissertation topic, which investigated the question of what critical strategies principals can employ to support classroom teachers through the process of full inclusion. These areas of research and teaching have been shaped by Jahnke’s history of working in the field of special education, as well as her engagement in a variety of leadership and service roles.

Jahnke summarized her experiences in the School of Education, commenting, “the faculty in the School of Education has been warm and welcoming, and I have appreciated the mentorship of my educational leadership colleagues immensely. It is clear that the SOE faculty are committed to the growth, development, and success of every student. I'm proud to be a part of it all!”