RESEARCH Series: Administrator Preparation

Administrator Preparation: "This research helps practitioners in the field understand the types of strategies and practices that will garner the best outcomes for students in schools" - Quote by Dr. Jennie Weiner and Jen Michno

Jen Michno headshot
Jen Michno

Clinical Instructor Jen Michno and colleague Dr. Jennie Weiner agree that research on administrator preparation is critically important for the field of education. Both Michno and Weiner are recent recipients of grants that support this vital research area.

Michno’s focus is to better prepare administrators to excel in Family School Community Engagement (FSCE). “This research helps practitioners in the field understand the types of strategies and practices that will garner the best outcomes for students in schools,” she says.  Weiner’s research focuses on students’ experiences within the preparatory programs themselves: “Are we, instructors in preparation programs, replicating patterns that are problematic and that reify discriminatory and ineffectual practices?” she asks. “More progressive, feasible, appropriate ways of thinking about leadership need to be learned and discussed.”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving (HFPG), Jen Michno is currently conducting research that will inform the design and implementation of a new module of the Department of Educational Leadership’s UConn Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) curriculum that will focus on the area of Family School Community Engagement (FSCE). The new FSCE module will ultimately become part of the curriculum for all UCAPP students, and will also be made available to several HFPG priority school districts across the state for use with currently-practicing administrators.

“There is clear evidence at the national level that there is a lack of focus on Family School Community Engagement in administrator preparation programs across the country.  FSCE practices promote equity in schools and should be an integral part of every individual’s administrator preparation experience. This research addresses this issue by creating an empirically-validated FSCE curriculum module that will reach not only UCAPP students but administrators across Connecticut.” - Jen Michno

Jennie Weiner headshot
Dr. Jennie Weiner

Broadly, Dr. Jennie Weiner’s research aims to redefine conceptualizations of leadership: to “move away from the ‘great (white) man’ theory, both literally and figuratively.”  Her current research project investigates the experiences of black woman administrators–including their current roles and their experiences in preparatory programs–to understand if and how they have experienced microaggressions. After conducting a 10-person pilot study (forthcoming in the Journal of Research on Leadership Education), Weiner, Dr. Laura Burton, and Daron Cyr, a doctoral student in Educational Leadership, were recently awarded the Spencer Foundation Grant for Small Studies. This grant will allow them to widen the scope of the study to 25 participants, and to learn more comprehensively about each participant’s experience and career trajectory. “The ultimate goal is to create opportunities so that leadership itself is more inclusive and equitable in terms of who has access to it and who can succeed in the work,” says Weiner.

“We know from the pilot study that the participants experienced quite a few microaggressions in their administrator preparation programs.  They cited being invisible in the space, never getting to talk about how their racial or gender identities might impact how people respond to them or how they engage in leadership, and a serious lack of curriculum written by anyone other than white men.” - Dr. Jennie Weiner

Whenever there were conversations about race, says Weiner, they were either centered around white privilege or students’ racial identities. “There was a focus on better understanding students from minoritized groups, which implies that the administrators are white,” she says. “And discussions about white privilege, while important, don’t really pertain to black women. There was more than one story in which a woman said she had to listen while instructors tried to convince a white man that white privilege was real. How safe or encouraged could she or anyone else outside our society’s dominant groups feel in that space?”

The impacts of both Michno’s and Weiner’s research are impressive, and neither woman’s work is without challenges. “As new material is introduced,” says Michno, “there is inevitably less time for other topics. Finding that perfect curricular balance is the biggest challenge emerging from this research.” For Weiner, the nature of her research calls for constant growth and learning. “Real change is really hard,” she says. “Every day I see the pain and the unfairness of how discrimination impacts people. I want change to happen yesterday but I also understand that this is not how things work. That said, I am committed to use my privilege to make a difference.”

But with the challenges come successes. “I get most excited when I think about the impact this will have, not only on leader development but also on the students within these school systems,” says Michno.  For Weiner, it’s rewarding to do work that feels relevant: “Maybe I could help somebody feel a little less alone or a little more empowered. Getting to work toward changing things that I think are wrong–what a gift!” Thanks to the HFPG and the Spencer Foundation, Michno and Weiner are making strides toward sustainable change that supports CT's emerging leaders.

Staying in Storrs: Loretta Rubin’s Return to UCAPP

The University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) is fortunate to have well-connected alumni who continue to work with the university, post-graduation or some who have returned after years of work in diverse professional settings. The “Staying in Storrs” series will highlight our talented EDLR program alumni and the work they are currently doing with UConn.  This feature focuses on the UCAPP program.

Loretta Rubin
Loretta Rubin

UCAPP alumna, Loretta Rubin was a member of the first UCAPP cohort based out of Stamford, graduating from the program in 1996. Currently, she serves as a leadership coach to interns in the same program that she graduated from, 22 years prior; an opportunity that she feels fortunate to have which allows her to draw upon her previous experience, when she was enrolled in the program.

Having first-hand experience as a student, she has a deep understanding of the challenges students face with regards to attending classes at night and on the weekends, while simultaneously balancing their day-jobs as successful educators. For this reason, she’s excited to serve as a role model to these aspiring leaders and teach them how to balance the program’s requirements in order to achieve their career goals.

Rubin reflected on the many role models who helped her throughout the program and her professional journey, one in particular was her adviser, Ellen Sloane. Sloane helped her navigate the program and balance the demands of higher education with the demands of the classroom. Today, Rubin is dedicated to providing that same support to UCAPP students in her role as a leadership coach. She does not tell students what to do or what to think – she asks questions that get them to think critically and adopt different perspectives. This helps them broaden their learning to get the most out of their internship experience.

One element that has helped Rubin transition into a role on the professional side of the UCAPP program is the continued commitment to the same values that the program upheld when she was a student. The importance of instructional leadership, core knowledge competencies, commitment to equity and cultural awareness, and the continued dedication to students remain the program’s top priorities. Rubin also applauds the program for its ability to continuously grow to meet the needs of an ever changing educational landscape while navigating the complexities of a principalship.

When she joined the program, Rubin knew it was highly respected. However, she explains that what she gained – and continues to gain from the program – far exceeded her expectations. She describes that she sought admission to the program for the credentials, but the diverse perspectives and comprehensive curriculum re-instilled her purpose for pursuing a career in education, with a goal “to make the world a better place.”

After 11 years of mentoring principals across the state, Rubin is excited to shift her focus to the UCAPP students as they have a unique opportunity to assess current issues in their internships, apply learnings from their classes, and implement creative solutions. She believes that the ability to inspire growth and development not only with the UCAPP students themselves, but throughout the educational landscape of Connecticut is amazing. The Department of Educational Leadership is excited for the energy and perspective that Rubin brings with her as she returns back to UCAPP after years in the field.

Student-Professional Feature: Bethany Rataic

In Higher Education, it is not uncommon for students to balance their studies with a full or part-time job. Many students enrolled in the programs of the University of Connecticut’s Department of Educational Leadership (EDLR) are not only students, but working professionals in the field. The “Student-Professionals” series will highlight these hard-working student-professionals and how they balance their responsibilities.  This feature focuses on a student-professional in the UCAPP program.

Bethany Rataic headshot
Second year UCAPP student and first-grade teacher at Lake Garda Elementary School, Bethany Rataic.

Bethany Rataic, a second year student in University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program, manages her academic work with her day-job in a different type of scholastic setting – as a first grade teacher at Lake Garda Elementary School in Burlington, CT where she has taught for the past 8 years.

She applied to UCAPP for the same reason that she wanted to pursue a career in teaching; because she loves working with kids and wanted to have a positive impact on their educational development. Through the UCAPP program, she is hoping to broaden her perspective and prepare herself to have a greater impact on the lives of more students as an administrator.

Rataic’s current principal, Stefanie Anderson, has been a great mentor and support system in her decision to enter the UCAPP program and pursue her 092 certification. When Rataic first considered this career step she was concerned that it would take her attention away from her classroom, but Anderson reassured her of her ability and reminded her of her mission as an educator – to inspire and empower greater learning in the lives of as many kids as possible.

Balancing a career as an educator with the responsibilities as a student of higher education is a challenge as both demand a large time commitment and mental capacity. Rataic explains that in order not to over dedicate herself to one role or the other, she has to hold herself accountable and continuously look at her priority-setting. As UCAPP is only a 2-year program, it has gone by fast and she wants to ensure that she is getting the most out of all it has to offer without sacrificing her work-quality in the classroom.

Rataic attributes her success as a student-professional to a commitment to her core values. She is dedicated to her goals and sees no other option than to persevere through challenge. In high school, Rataic’s guidance counselor told her that she would never get into UConn. Today, she holds multiple degrees from UConn including a B.A. in Human Development and Family Studies, a B.S. in Elementary Education and a M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction in addition to her current enrollment in the UCAPP Program.

Bethany Rataic with her class of students
Bethany Rataic reading to her first grade class.

Rataic has not only taken advantage of opportunities in her career, like studying and working in London as part of her Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s degree, but she’s turned challenges into growth opportunities. She did not get into UConn, the Neag School nor UCAPP in the traditional admissions cycle, but she never let that rejection deter her from her goals. She is determined and quick to ask for feedback, including talking to Richard Gonzales, UCAPP Administrator, concerning the rejection of her application. This initiative and eagerness was recognized, and she was admitted into the program. Her commitment to growth and her end-goal has been a key factor in her success, and an asset as she balances the challenges as a student and a professional.

To other student-professionals, Rataic encourages them to self-reflect and recognize that there are going to be challenges. She explains, “Rely on your support system to help and motivate you, and be confident in your ability to meet these challenges.”

Neag School Hosts 4th Annual Educational Leadership Forum in Hartford

The fourth annual Educational Leadership Forum, created by Richard Gonzales, the director of the Neag School’s educational leadership preparation programs, and Robert Villanova, program director for its Executive Leadership Program (ELP), highlighted the theme of leadership for equity, as covered by the Neag School of Education.

UCAPP Kicks Off Annual Workshop Series

Women engaged in a UCAPP lessonOn September 25, 2018, the University of Connecticut Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) will begin its 4th annual series of UCAPP workshops. UCAPP workshops are designed to supplement UCAPP’s core curriculum by offering extensions to UCAPP’s current principal preparation program courses and internship opportunities.

The first two UCAPP workshops of the 2018-2019 school year will be held next week in New Haven, CT, and Hartford, CT. These UCAPP workshops, called ‘Core Values, Mission, and Vision + Budget’ first will challenge aspiring UCAPP Leaders to identify their own core values and beliefs about educational leadership.

Next, students will work in small groups of aspiring elementary principals at ‘Neag Elementary School’ and aspiring high school principals at ‘Neag High School’ to simulate the development of each school’s vision and mission statements. These vision and mission statements will be based on simulated school data and budget considerations developed by the UCAPP Workshops planning team.

Although UCAPP workshops are optional for students, each one provides a collaborative, hands-on adult learning experience utilizing authentic case studies, real data, artifacts and documents, and simulations. The process to create and develop the UCAPP workshop structure aligns closely with the Carnegie Foundation’s improvement science process. Specifically, UCAPP utilized the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) inquiry method in improvement science to address identified gaps in UCAPP’s ever-evolving core curriculum.

The UCAPP workshop model fills gaps between iterations of UCAPP’s core curriculum, and provide flexibility for the program to respond to student needs quickly and intentionally as standards, innovations, and policies emerge within the profession. Such stop-gap practices also support the program’s other processes to develop enhancements for continuous improvement between iterations of the core curriculum. In fact, since the implementation of the UCAPP workshop model, curriculum gaps identified by the program and filled by workshops are now leading to more permanent enhancements to continuously improve both the curriculum and student internship as part of the UCAPP’s elective redesign process.

“UCAPP Workshops fill gaps between iterations of our core curriculum, and provide flexibility for the program to respond to student needs quickly and intentionally as standards, innovations, and policies emerge within the profession.”
- Jonathan Carter, 3rd-year doctoral student

The workshop planning team consists of UCAPP’s current graduate assistant, Jonathan Carter, who is in his 3rd-year of his doctoral degree, UCAPP’s Program Coordinator, Joanne Manginelli and UConn’s Director of Educational Leadership Preparation Programs, Dr. Richard Gonzales.

The team constantly monitors ongoing shifts in the educational leadership field to strategically incorporate new UCAPP workshops into the academic calendar. UCAPP Workshops for 2018-2019 include the expansion of its popular career planning webinars, culminating with the 3rd Annual Mock Interview Day in two locations over two separate dates. Other new UCAPP workshops events for 2018-2019 include a series of Connecticut Administrator Test (CAT) study sessions led by EDLR’s Dr. Jennie Weiner and sessions facilitated by Dr. Chip Dumais on School Safety & Crisis Management and Social Media.

The 2018-19 UCAPP workshops will offer second-year students an innovative new series of five webinars on “Cultural Responsiveness.” These webinars will explore what it means for each of our aspiring school leaders to be a culturally responsive leader today.

Richard Gonzales

Looking ahead, first-year students can choose to participate in the following UCAPP Workshops:

  • Core Values, Vision, and Mission
  • Professional Learning Planning
  • PPT / Special Education
  • SRBI
  • Talent Management
  • Situational Leadership (Culture & Climate)
  • Situational Leadership (Family & Community Engagement)

Second-year UCAPP Leaders will have additional opportunities to further supplement their leadership preparation through these targeted workshops:

  • Career Planning
  • CAT/ELAS Preparation
  • School Safety & Crisis Management
  • Social Media

We look forward to the continued success of the UCAPP Workshops series, and encourage interested parties to visit UCAPP Workshops for more information or to register for an upcoming event.