Perseverance and a concern for students push Janice Poda’s drive to “be better”

The Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C., is just a stone’s throw from the nation’s capital. It’s where Janice Poda serves as strategic initiative director for education workforce, guiding, advocating and transforming educator effectiveness nationwide.

Poda’s own education began at Carolina where, in 1976, she earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies education and soon become a S.C. teacher. She remembers her undergraduate days fondly, particularly a walk across the Horseshoe where she locked eyes one day with journalism student George Poda. They married 18 months after graduation.

In her first teaching job, Janice took her social studies class on a field trip to the Clarendon Country courthouse, site of the Briggs v. Elliott trial that led to the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which initiated school desegregation. Exactly 25 years later, Poda would be back in the same courthouse testifying on behalf of S.C. children and educators.

Janice and George settled near the University of Georgia where she began work on her M.Ed. in learning disabilities, and they celebrated the arrival of Elizabeth, their first child. Life was good, but in the blink of an eye, everything changed. George died in an automobile accident leaving Janice stunned and devastated. She managed to complete her degree before returning to Columbia with her 9-month-old daughter.

“Those were dark days,” she says. “I spent a lot of time just sitting on my parents’ couch. Finally, my father gently but firmly said to me, 'You can’t just sit here. You have to do something.' ”

With that exhortation and advice from the family’s past — “you can either be bitter or be better” — Janice decided to be better. And USC offered the lifeline she needed. She took courses, served as a supervisor to student teachers and completed her Ph.D. in elementary education and education administration.

Since then, she has served as an assistant superintendent, executive director of the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, and as both deputy superintendent of educator quality and leadership and deputy superintendent of education for the S.C. Department of Education. Ultimately, that led to her work in Washington.

Janice exemplifies courageous leadership. She represents all the skills that we hope to instill in our graduates through the Carolina Leadership Initiative.  And soon Janice will add another very important title to her already impressive resume. Her daughter Elizabeth — a USC graduate with four degrees — and her son-in-law, also a Carolina graduate, are preparing for the arrival of twins.

“Two new Gamecocks,” Poda, the future grandmother, says with a smile.