November 24, 2015 by Amanda Bradford, NMSU News Center
On a fall morning in Las Cruces, Picacho Middle School Assistant Principal Toni Hull walks the building and chats with students as they wend their way to class. Some of these young people have never lacked the resources they need to be able to focus on learning. For others, there are many distractions – an unstable home life, an empty fridge, a language barrier – that make learning a challenge.
Hull sees these disparities play out in the classroom every day as the achievement gap grows between children living in poverty and those who are not. A 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress report shows that low-income eighth-grade students in New Mexico underperform their non-low-income classmates by 21 percent in reading and 23 percent in math. New Mexico has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country: 31 percent of children live at or below the federal poverty level, according to data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project.
Hull is one of a cohort of education leaders who are taking an unusual approach to helping their schools address that gap – they’re learning how to lead differently, using business management training from New Mexico State University to help boost school achievement and student success.
NMSU has partnered with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation to create the Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership Program, which offers funding for school leaders to complete MBA courses with an emphasis on the education context.
Offered through NMSU’s College of Business, the program aims to prepare leaders who will expand the use of analytics and evidence-based practices, raise student performance and improve the quality of school systems and teaching over time.
Hull said she’s learning how to lead with a strong end goal in mind: student success.
“Every action we take should be focused on that goal,” she said. “To me, it’s about taking these kids, regardless of their backgrounds, and setting high expectations for them – and then giving them the support they need to achieve those expectations.”
Hull, who holds a doctorate in education and completed a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellowship in 2012, said she believes education has a lot to learn from the business realm.
“Many business philosophies apply to teaching and learning, especially in the area of motivation and leadership,” Hull said. “People work for people, and educational leaders need to create an environment of teacher and student success.”
Tori Gilpin, testing coordinator for the Gadsden Independent School District, said it’s already clear that taking on the business concepts in the program won’t be easy.
“My first impression is that this is going to be very challenging, since many of us do not have the prior experience in business,” Gilpin said, “but I want to become a more effective leader and learn new strategies.”
Steve Elias, director of the new MBA fellowship program and Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Professor in the College of Business, said the MBA courses build on the educators’ instructional training and get them thinking strategically about how to approach the many other facets of leadership.
“Courses will cover organizational leadership, data analysis, marketing, finance, technology – even entrepreneurship,” Elias said. “And we’ll do all of this with an emphasis on how these content areas apply to education.”
Amber Perry, an instructional coach at Hatch Valley Middle School, said she’s learning a fresh approach to building teams that work together to implement change.
“Education is going through some dynamic changes,” Perry said, “and teachers and schools are having a hard time coping with some of those changes. As I learn more about leadership through this program, I can help the schools in my community adapt.”
College of Business Dean Jim Hoffman said the program is one more way that the college can help build up and support the pipeline of New Mexico students who are prepared to succeed in college and the workforce.
“We worked closely with school districts throughout the development of this fellowship program, so these courses will help address real needs that we’ve learned about from those district leaders,” Hoffman said.
Colette Martinez is an instructional specialist with Las Cruces Public Schools’ Joint Ungraded Multi-age Primary program, which helps students in kindergarten, first and second grade who are not proficient readers and who may be at risk of failure in other subjects and in jeopardy of retention.
“Being able to close the achievement gap requires some direct and deliberate attention to the details that created it in the first place,” Martinez said. “The business world takes into account the details and uses them to drive specific responses.”
Each of the fellows receives a stipend, which covers full tuition and associated program expenses, including a summer boot camp designed to get them up to speed in key prerequisites. In exchange, each fellow agrees to serve in an approved school or district leadership role within the state for at least three years, with foundation-supported mentoring. Applications to the program are available by nomination only.
Funding for the fellowship at NMSU and a similar program at the University of New Mexico was provided by a grant from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation also received a $2.1 million grant from the Daniels Fund over the next three years to support expansion of New Mexico’s fellowship programs to include up to 20 fellows in future cohorts.
To learn more about the Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership at NMSU, visit http://business.nmsu.edu/academics/graduate-programs/mba-ww.
Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellows:
- Vangie Barela, Valley View Elementary School
- Estella Becerra, Gadsden Independent School District
- Ed Ellison, Las Cruces Public Schools
- Torrance Gilpin, Gadsden Independent School District
- Toni Hull, Picacho Middle School
- Gabriel Jacquez, Mesa Middle School
- Colette Martinez, Las Cruces Public Schools
- Wendi Miller-Tomlinson, Las Cruces Public Schools
- Latisha Montoya, Sonoma Elementary School
- Amber Perry, Hatch Valley Middle School
- Lydia Polanco, Las Cruces Public Schools