Written by Tamra M. Walderon & Matthew J. Etchells

On Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, thousands of students graduated from Texas A&M University along with 42 master’s graduates from the first cohort of the Accelerated Preparation of Leaders for Underserved Schools (APLUS) Component One.

APLUS is a three-year project funded through the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) Grant Program from the Department of Education. The goal of A-PLUS is to prepare 2,320 school leaders, who serve on campuses with diverse learners across Texas, particularly those who are English learners (ELs) and who are experiencing low socioeconomic conditions.

“Our goal for Component One is to prepare 100 school leaders to lead campuses and influence policy in districts that serve diverse learners through a Masters of Education degree and Texas principal certification,” said Dr. Laura Cajiao-Wingenbach, lead coordinator.

Participants from the first APLUS cohort were grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this program and are already considering the impact and effect it has had and will continue to have on their students, classrooms, campuses and personal careers in education.

Fawn Simpson, APLUS M.Ed. graduate and second grade teacher at Hearne ISD, said her biggest takeaway from this opportunity was how her mindset and her role as a leader shifted through the program’s mentorship and coaching approach.

“Just like as a teacher, it is my responsibility to grow my students; as an instructional leader, it is your responsibility to grow your teachers. When I made that connection, the whole world opened up,” Simpson said.

For Erika Mead-Garza her experience with APLUS was an exceptional one. “Project APLUS provided me with an opportunity and the motivation to move forward with my career in education. I am proud and grateful to have had the privilege of being selected to participate in this program. I already started to see the impact in my career as I continue to grow as an instructional leader in my district,” Mead-Garza said.

Another APLUS participant, Lauren Musick, is a 5th Grade science teacher for Navasota ISD. She is also among the 42 graduates from Cohort I. “The APLUS program has altered the lens through which I view my mission as an educator and my perception of the educational community around me. I feel this program not only opened my eyes to my own inconsistencies, but also provided inclusive and collaborative strategies to assist in ensuring all students, teachers and families have a voice in the educational process, regardless of primary language or cultural background,” Musick said.

I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this program. I firmly believe that because of the APLUS program I will be a more effective leader in and out of the classroom,” said Musick.

Elsa Villareal, APLUS program coordinator, said participants who complete the program earn a Master’s degree (M.Ed.) in Educational Administration, TExES Principal Certification (TExES #268 exam and PASL #368), and TExES ESL Teacher Certification (Exam #154).

“The program will aid in the development of instructional capacity for the participants and for teachers on their respective campuses to improve achievement for diverse learners. APLUS is a specific program for current teachers who are EC-6 certified in the state of Texas and serving on campuses that have identified a high need for English Language Learners. Our first cohort started in fall 2018,” Villareal said.

The APLUS project currently has a second cohort in progress and will soon begin recruiting a third. Dr. Beverly J. Irby, Regents Professor and Associate Dean for Academics of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, Director of the Education Leadership and Research Center, and Co-Director of the Center for Research & Development in Dual Language & Literacy Acquisition said, “APLUS Cohort I graduates will make things better for English learners and children experiencing economic challenges and their teachers in our great state! We would not be able to meet the needs of the state without the collaboration of world class faculty from the Department of Education Administration and Human Resource Development, the College of Education and Human Development and the grant support of U.S. Department of Education.”

For more information on project APLUS visit https://crdlla.tamu.edu/aplus

Stay connected with the Education Leadership Research Center on social media at @ELRCTAMU and the Center for Research & Development in Dual Language & Literacy Acquisition @CRDLLATAMU