UNT admitted to exclusive educational leadership consortium

Dr. Miriam Ezzani

By Mary Murphy

 

This January, the University Council for Educational Administration approved the University of North Texas for full membership as a research utilizing university. Of the United States' nearly 3,000 four-year universities, only 100 are full members of UCEA. UCEA is a consortium of universities that impacts the field of educational leadership through its dedication to improve leadership preparation, practice and policy. 

Full UCEA membership sets UNT apart from other institutions by meeting a standard of excellence to advance educational leadership preparation, scholarship and practice. The program aims to fulfill this purpose by disseminating research on essential problems of practice, improving the preparation and professional development of school leaders and professors, and by influencing policy and practice through collaborative networks. Full institutional membership affords UNT a seat at the table regarding national standards and educational policy at the federal and state levels.

 In an effort to be a part of this distinguished consortium, UNT's educational leadership program underwent a redesign and then applied for full institutional membership. Prerequisites required the program to: offer master and doctoral programs; include educational leadership as its main area of research, teaching and service; meet 11 program quality criterion; and undergo an extensive review that requires an in-depth application and on-site review process.

"In order for us to complete the application to their satisfaction, we needed to present the evidence that we were doing all of this," said Miriam Ezzani, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education and Administration who liaised with UCEA in the process of getting the educational leadership program approved for membership. "As we went through the process of analyzing the 11 criterion, we realized, ‘You know what? We're really not doing all of this,' which triggered a total redesign of our program. It was a huge undertaking."

In 2012, UNT's educational leadership program presented UCEA with a five-year improvement plan and was granted provisional membership to expire in 2017. The faculty began redesigning the program's core values, courses and structure. According to Ezzani, program faculty first redesigned the master's degree to an accelerated online program, where currently more than 300 students are enrolled. UCEA touted this program as "carefully designed … to ensure high-quality instruction." Professors then created core values that would develop graduates who could "L.E.A.D.": Lead learning organizations; Engage ethically with the community; Advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion; and Develop theory to practice solutions.  

With these values in mind, the faculty began to re-examine course offerings, and the doctoral program underwent a change in structure to a "blended model," meaning that students attend approximately half of the course sessions face to face and the others online.

 "This [model] is really beneficial for our doctoral students who are working professionals -- school leaders and district leaders," Ezzani said. "This allows them to study, read, think and write online, and then come to class and engage in robust conversations."

Along with this, the Buchholz Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership became a member of the Carnegie Project on the Educational Doctorate (CPED). The Carnegie-influenced doctoral program now functions in a "cohort model," meaning that a group of students are admitted and remain in classes together during their three years of coursework before engaging in the doctoral dissertation process. This model helps faculty develop a learning community with groups of students and allows students to form professional and lasting relationships with one another. Faculty anticipate, with a Carnegie-influenced doctoral program, they will recruit, admit and retain the best students and graduate them on time.   

After making the above changes, UNT's educational leadership program resubmitted its more than 100-page membership application, and UNT was accepted as a full-fledged member. 

"The University of North Texas received strong support for membership," said Pamela Tucker, senior associate director of UCEA. "UCEA is pleased to welcome [UNT] into our community of faculty who are dedicated to improving leadership preparation, practice, and policy. We think [UNT] will offer valuable contributions, and look forward to their active engagement with UCEA initiatives in coming years."    

Redesigning this program wasn't the only thing that led UNT to UCEA membership. Throughout the years, UNT's Buchholz Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership has received generous contributions and support from Don and Ruth Buchholz.

"Part of our being able to get this membership is the ability to show that we have huge support from university leaders, from our dean and chair, and from community members like the Buchholzes," Ezzani said. "The Buchholzes' dream is to make a huge impact out in the field. To that end, our role is to make sure we offer the best program possible so that our students will graduate and make a difference in the lives of K-12 students." 

According to Ezzani, the district leaders from the Dallas-Fort Worth area have already shown a phenomenal response to the Buchholz doctoral program's new structure and UCEA status. The program just admitted 27 students who will attend classes beginning spring 2016 at UNT's New College at Frisco.  Another large group of leaders from Irving ISD is applying in March for admission in the fall as part of the Universities Center at Dallas cohort. 

"Needless to say, it was a lengthy process. A lot of work went into it. We're happy about being a part of [UCEA], but we're also happy to be able to say that we're contributing to the bigger goal of the university," Ezzani said. "I know President Smatresk is really pushing to raise the bar across the entire university, and as a program we're playing our role. I believe with everyone doing their part – college, department and program level – we have risen to and will remain a Tier One university."