Dr. Walter S. Polka, professor of professional programs and Ph.D. program coordinator at Niagara University, was presented with the 2013 State University of New York at Buffalo Graduate School of Education Alumni of Distinction Award during the school's commencement ceremony held May 10.
Polka was selected by the Graduate School of Education to receive the 2013 GSE Distinguished Alumni Award, an honor given to an alumnus who has impacted the field of education through an exemplary history of research, teaching and service.
Polka is a native of Niagara Falls, where he attended public schools and graduated from LaSalle Senior High School in 1963. He attended SUNY at Buffalo and received his B.A. in history in 1968. He began his public school teaching career upon graduation and completed his M.A. in history (1970) and M.S. in education (1971) as well as his certification of specialization in educational administration (1973) from Niagara University. He returned to SUNY at Buffalo and completed his Ed.D. degree in curriculum planning in 1977. Polka also completed postdoctoral studies and programs at both Harvard and Florida State universities.
Polka has held several professional leadership positions during his 45 years as an educator, including high school social studies teacher, curriculum planner and interscholastic coach at Lewiston-Porter High School (1968-1973); Williamsville Central School District social studies and science curriculum coordinator, K-12 (1973-1986); assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction (1986-1990) and superintendent of schools of the Lewiston-Porter School District (1990-2003). His curriculum leadership at both Williamsville and Lewiston-Porter resulted in exemplary programs for students and faculty. Lewiston-Porter High School has been identified as one of the top 100 high schools in the U.S. as a result of the open-access Advanced Placement program he instituted. He has also been recognized for his projects designed to incorporate more globalism and diversity into the school curriculum.
In addition to his public school teaching and administrative experiences, Polka has taught graduate and undergraduate courses since 1970 as an adjunct professor at several Western New York institutions of higher education, including NU, Medaille College, Niagara County Community College, State University of New York at Buffalo, State University of New York College at Brockport and State University of New York College at Buffalo.
After his retirement from New York public education, he was appointed associate professor and doctoral program coordinator at Georgia Southern University (2003-08). There, he was the major adviser for 25 doctoral candidates who successfully completed their doctoral degrees under his guidance. He returned to NU in January 2008 to teach and facilitate the development of a new Ph.D. program in leadership and policy. He also teaches administrative preparation summer courses at Loyola University in Baltimore.
Polka, who has been described by his colleagues as a "perpetual teacher," proclaims his goal in teaching is "to help other professionals accomplish their respective goals to the fullest degree possible." He has consistently received excellent evaluations from his students due to his creative instructional approaches and his caring commitment to their learning.
Polka has authored more than two-dozen peer-reviewed research articles as well as nine book chapters, and has presented his research about leadership, curriculum development, diversity and technology in 40 states and 25 countries. His curriculum research work has been published in Germany and Japan.
Throughout his career, Polka has offered his service to many professional associations. He currently is a member of the ATE National Commission on Teacher Self-Efficacy as well as the National Commission on Graduate Education. Polka is also a member of NU's committees on promotion and tenure, and university mission, as well as the College of Education's technology committee. He is a founding member of the Western New York student advocacy group Partnership for Smarter Schools, and past president of the International Kiwanis Club of Lewiston.
His 2008 book with Peter R. Litchka, "The dark side of educational leadership: Superintendents and the professional victim syndrome," based on a 2006 mixed-methods study of school superintendents in Georgia and New York, is used as a key reference for current and aspiring superintendents throughout the U.S. He is currently completing another book about school district leadership, titled "Living on the horns of dilemmas: Superintendent decision-making and problem solving," which is based on a mixed-methods study of superintendents conducted in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
For information on Niagara University's Ph.D. program in leadership and policy, call 716-286-8550 or visit www.niagara.edu/ph-d-in-leadership-and-policy.