Teachers in rural parishes like St. Mary are heavily invested in their community. Many have lived there most of their lives.
Recognizing that commitment, the school district partnered with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to invest in those teachers, as well.
This semester, 18 teachers from St. Mary Parish complete UL Lafayette’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership hybrid degree program. It is the second time a cohort from the school district participates and completes the program.
In addition, 10 teachers from Rapides Parish and six from the on-campus cohort graduate.
St. Mary Superintendent Dr. Teresa Bagwell says all of the district’s initial 20 graduates from 2013 who wanted to be placed in administrative positions have been placed.
“We’re confident the people in our cohort are going to remain in St. Mary for the foreseeable future,” Dr. Bagwell says.
“For our cohorts, we look for people with a strong work ethic who seek continuous learning who are progressive in their thinking and are highly committed to students.”
Creating Solutions, Opportunity
Amanda Chase is one of those leaders.
With 15 years of teaching under her belt, Chase is accustomed to owning responsibilities in addition to managing her first-grade class at Wyandotte Elementary in her hometown, Morgan City.
Naturally, she was tapped to lead the school’s Title I transition team.
She says if not for the Educational Leadership program, which emphasizes analyzing school data to create real solutions, she would have been lost.
“Whenever I took over Title I, the first thing I had to do is analyze the school’s data. So I was able to take it and run with it and help other people figure out how to analyze the data,” she says. “I would have never been able to do that if not for the data analysis I did through UL Lafayette. We learned how to analyze the data, what to look for, what needs to be analyzed; that was a huge help.”
Chase describes herself as a lifelong learner. She says she’d already acquired other add-on certification endorsements, so setting her sights on an administrative post was the natural next step.
Dr. Bagwell says for many in the rural parish, it can be difficult to attain a quality advanced education. UL Lafayette’s hybrid program puts that in reach by meeting students where they are. In this case, the district’s Central Office.
“The accessibility of it being a satellite program brought in people who may not have pursued a master’s degree otherwise,” she says. “The cohort we’re graduating has three teachers who are pregnant. So I would envision they would not have driven from their homes in Morgan City to Lafayette.”
In contrast to online programs where courses are entirely online, hybrid programs include a mix of face-to-face meetings and online coursework.
For the M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, students enter the program in a cohort and follow a specific sequence of courses over six semesters of the program.
Students take two courses each semester and meet in person for classes once a week. The material covered in those weekly meetings alternates: they attend only one class in person each week while completing online coursework for the other.
“Students really like this method of course delivery,” says associate professor Dr. Frank Del Favero, program coordinator. “Rather than being out of the house two times per week for classes as in the traditional course delivery method, they are only out one night per week, allowing them more time for career and familial responsibilities.”
By partnering with the districts to hold classes in satellite locations, the weekly face-to-face meetings were only 15 minutes from Chase’s home, allowing her to focus on coursework instead of making it to multiple classes each week.
“It’s all just about being organized and setting a schedule,” she says. “I would try to come into school early to get things done before school, then spend a couple hours each night on schoolwork.”
UL Lafayette’s professors were also essential in making the program manageable for working teachers, she says.
“The professors we had were amazing,” she says. “They were there any time we needed help. They would answer our questions and were very patient with us.”
Building a District-wide Leadership Network
Because students enroll in the hybrid master’s program as a cohort, they quickly form a support network.
Dr. Bagwell says that built-in support has been invaluable in fostering district-wide collaboration.
“It’s built comradery of leadership across the parish because you now have people who have gotten to know each other very well in a professional and educational venue who will continue to work together and continue to collaborate even though they’re at different schools,” she says.
Chase says her immediate goal is to work with other teachers to create the best possible learning experience for students.
But when she does take the next step, Chase says she’s ready to recognize and build up other leaders.
“Being a leader in the school doesn’t mean it’s your sole responsibility to take on everything,” Chase says. “You have to be able to delegate, you have to be able to identify other leaders in your school to help you to run the school successfully.
“It’s also important to involve everyone in the process — parents, students, community members. Everyone needs to be involved to make a successful school.”
Investing in the Future
In addition to providing facilities, St. Mary Parish School District’s investment includes tuition, making the district selective in its cohort recruitment and mindful of the program’s rigor.
“We’re confident in this program’s ability to prepare teachers for leadership positions,” Dr. Bagwell says. “There are a lot of online programs that are available that don’t provide the same level academia as what UL Lafayette offers.”
Dr. Bagwell says she’s grateful for the relationship the district has built with UL Lafayette and the opportunity the University has provided to give teachers a path forward.
“We make a significant financial investment,” she says. “We do that because we want to invest in our people to give them a career path, not just a place to work.”
Learn more about the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Master of Education in Educational Leadership hybrid degree program on the Online Programs website. The University also offers Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction, Instructional Specialist Concentration, completely online.