Yvonne Hernandez was an assistant principal in Edgewood ISD when she learned that she was chosen to receive the Johnny L. Veselka scholarship. “Receiving the scholarship impacted not only my doctoral experience greatly, but my experience as a school administrator,” she says.“Shortly after receiving the scholarship, I was scouted by another district to apply to work as a school principal at a reconstituted campus.”
Now the principal of Dwight Middle School in South San Antonio ISD, Hernandez continues to pursue her doctorate in school improvement and superintendent certification from Texas State University in San Marcos. Her projected graduation date is May 2018.
Hernandez cites the commute she makes twice a week between San Antonio and San Marcos as the most challenging aspect of continuing her education at this time in her life. “Working as a school administrator in San Antonio requires much of my time, and I find myself negotiating how I will invest my time,” she says.
The middle school principal says she often tells colleagues who are eyeing a doctorate to be certain they are willing to devote much time and energy to the program. “I tell them that a doctoral degree is not like any other degree they have earned due to the intensity and research involved,” Hernandez says.
The silver lining, of course, is the opportunities that arise when one makes such a commitment. “I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of presenting my research at different conferences nationally and internationally,” she says.
In July 2015, Hernandez was selected to be a delegate at the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society Annual Conference. During the gathering, which attracted educators from nearly every continent, Hernandez represented American school principals on a panel that shared their experiences, insight and best practices as leaders of struggling schools.
Aaron Peña, principal of Woodway Elementary School in Midway ISD in Region 12, has his sights set on a December 2016 graduation. He will receive a doctoral degree in education administration from the Cooperative Superintendents Program at The University of Texas. His doctoral journey has been long and not without its challenges.
“The most difficult aspect of pursuing my doctoral degree has been working on the dissertation after completing all the coursework,” Peña says. “The absence of regular accountability is a big challenge.”
The Midway ISD principal credits his determination to persevere to a strong support network. “Mentors of mine — such as Dr. George Kazanas, Dr. Brad Lancaster and Dr. Roland Hernandez — all inspired me to pursue my doctorate,” he says. “Dr. Chris Allen specifically encouraged me to apply to the Cooperative Superintendents Program at UT.”
According to Peña, being a Johnny L. Veselka Scholarship recipient has held more value beyond the dollar amount. “It enabled me to meet Texas superintendents and leaders in public education administration, such as TASA’s Dr. Veselka,” he says.
Peña encourages other school administrators who are considering a doctoral degree to follow in his footsteps. “My advice to other administrators is to stop thinking about it and just do it!” he says.
Cynthia Webber, principal at Haslet Elementary in Northwest ISD, calls education “a driving force” in her life. The elementary school principal is pursuing her doctoral degree in educational leadership at Dallas Baptist University (DBU) and is set to graduate in May 2018.
“Education has always been a driving force in my life,” she says. “Since kindergarten, I have learned that knowledge is power, and I have continually sought ways to enhance my impact in my spheres of influence.“
The most challenging aspect of pursuing a doctorate, according to Webber, is balancing the demands of the program with her professional obligations and commitments as a wife and mom. “I have given myself permission to not demand that life be in perfect balance 24/7,” she says. “Some days are work heavy and others are study heavy. Still other days, I leave the laptop at home and go out and cheer for my boys on the baseball field.
“It’s a continual process of transparency and reflection,” she continues. “I am lucky enough to have amazing people in my life who help keep me accountable and sane.”
Webber says the most rewarding aspect of her doctoral journey has been the relationships she has developed with her DBU Cohort 7 members. “We have an incredibly supportive community, and we are continually lifting each other up and pushing one another forward,” she says.
Webber says the Johnny L. Veselka Scholarship uplifted her as well, because it provided for tuition, books and so much more. “It was once said that one can see further by standing on the shoulders of giants, and that is what I feel the Johnny L. Veselka Scholarship has allowed me to do,” Webber says. “Dr. Veselka and so many others have provided many of us with leadership by the example they have provided. This scholarship has been a tangible demonstration of their leadership in my life.”
Her advice to other administrators considering a doctorate: “Do it. There will never be a good time to pursue a doctoral degree, so might as well get started today. We do not pursue audacious goals because of their practicality; we pursue them because of their transformational power.”