Meet the Expert: Catherine Barbour

Illustration of Catherine Barbour

Catherine Barbour is a credentialed School Turnaround Leader with a certificate from Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education. She successfully turned around three low-performing schools as a principal in urban, suburban, and rural districts.

POSITION: Managing Technical Assistance Consultant

EXPERTISE: School Turnaround, School Leadership


Q: What’s been your favorite project while working at AIR?

Catherine: I would actually say two. First, building and leading the District and School Improvement turnaround service lines, which include lead turnaround partner support and leadership and instruction coaching services. Second would be building and leading the State Support Network, funded by the Office of State Support at the Department of Education. The State Support Network provides free technical assistance to states and districts looking for support in their turnaround efforts.

Q: If you didn’t get into this field, what would you have done instead?

Catherine: I would have owned and operated a horse training facility in the country.

Image of quote from Catherine BarbourQ: What’s the biggest challenge facing school principals today?

Catherine: Leading a complex organization with limited resources, including teachers, funding, and materials, often while working with competing mandates from the district, state, and federal levels. And at the same time working tirelessly to provide a quality education for the students who attend your school.

Q: How does being a former principal influence your current work in school turnaround efforts?

Catherine: I understand the frustration, doubt, and challenges that turnaround principals face every day because I have walked in those same shoes. We built a model of support for principals to help them navigate those challenges and still be able to focus on the big picture: supporting teachers so they can be the best educators possible.

Q: What would you tell someone who’s considering career in social science research and consulting?

Catherine: It’s a great career that offers a unique opportunity to pursue your passion and be of service to those who can benefit from your expertise.

Q: What’s your go-to resource?

Catherine: Leverage Leadership by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.

Q: What’s the last great book you read?

Catherine: Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.

Q: If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?

Catherine: This is difficult – my dinner party would probably be more like 20 guests than three! But if I had to narrow it down, I would say Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love; Victoria Colvin, a top horse professional; and Dan Duke, a school turnaround researcher and mentor.

Q: Where can we find you on a typical Saturday afternoon?

Catherine: At a horse show somewhere in Virginia with my horse, Luis.