Teacher Jessica D'Ambrosio was determined to enhance her education. She did it by completing the University of Wisconsin-Superior's Master of Science in Education (MSE) – Educational Administration online program and principal licensure in December 2020. In May 2021, she will also finish an add-on Director of Instruction certification.
When friends and family heard about all she was taking on, they went from surprised and excited to supportive and encouraging. D'Ambrosio credits her husband and family for sticking with her and helping her through it all.
Though D'Ambrosio already had a master's in elementary education, she knew that she wanted to have a larger impact in public education and in supporting educators. She chose to pursue two licensures to show versatility and a broad skill set.
"Sometimes in a smaller school district, a principal may also have to serve as director of instruction. Living where I am with three young children, I knew that I wanted to stay in the area and that it would make me more valuable to have both licensures."
Light Years Ahead
While D'Ambrosio completed her first master's degree in a classroom setting at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, she needed a new option this time around. Having graduated from two UW institutions previously, she decided to stay within the same school system.
"Some of those courses were during the day or early evening. I could have never done that as a full-time teacher, a volunteer coach and mom of three young children. The flexibility of this online program has been perfect."
"I had really great outcomes and felt very well-prepared for my future careers. And with wanting to be a role model in public education, I felt like it was important to choose a public Wisconsin-supported college."
D'Ambrosio chose the UW-Superior online program because it was relevant and rigorous. Its practicum component, which included working in the field alongside a principal for 320 hours and a director of instruction for 160 hours, also held great appeal.
"You learn so much on the job. And so, having that 480 hours really is advantageous and will help prepare me for a future leadership position," she said.
"After taking [EDAD 750: School Law], I realized it is extremely important that educators understand the laws and policies that go along with the school district, because you're that first step when someone needs clarification on procedures or policies. I needed to be informed for those conversations and to ensure that we are providing equitable education for all students."
While D'Ambrosio recognizes the challenges of a packed schedule, she doesn't regret going online for her master's. She also believes she has shown her children the value of hard work and dedication.
"My dream was to have my three children watch me walk with a 4.0 average while being a full-time mom and volunteering and really prioritizing."
Though the COVID-19 pandemic meant no graduation ceremony, D'Ambrosio still completed her degree with a perfect GPA. The diploma she received in the mail culminated two years of hard work.
Not Your Average Yellowjacket
D'Ambrosio became interested in school administration when she realized she could touch more students' lives. She also wanted to support and coach teachers, after having been one herself. Her bachelor's degree from UW-Stout is in psychology with a minor in coaching.
"It's that coaching component that really inspires me to want to guide others. The role of a principal is not management."
She feels strongly about continuing her work in the public-school system. She and her brother both attended public schools and are first-generation college graduates.
"Kids come from such diverse backgrounds and don't have equal access to support, whether that be emotional or financial," she said. "I [work to ensure] that when they come to a public school, they are getting their needs met socially, emotionally and academically. It's just a wonderful environment to be a part of and to watch those kids grow and develop.
"If I don't get a principal position within a year or two, I still know that all of the knowledge that I've gained and the money that I've invested into this program are still going to be very advantageous to me, as a classroom teacher and a leader within our school district."
The mentorship program was one of D'Ambrosio's favorite aspects of her experience at UW-Superior.
"Through the Amery School District, Cheryl Meyer has been my mentor principal, and she is absolutely wonderful. I really developed and fostered an amazing relationship with her, and I know that wherever I go to be a principal, that is a connection and a peer-to-peer relationship that I will value and will guide me."
D'Ambrosio has gained insight from how administrators handled increased responsibilities, especially given the COVID-19 pandemic. In the mentorship program, she gained a fuller understanding of the role of a principal. She wants to use what she learned to assist other teachers the way her own mentor assisted her.
"As a principal, my hope is to guide and support teachers and create coachable learning opportunities so I can help teachers in supporting their students to ensure they reach their academic and social goals."
The Force Is With Her
D'Ambrosio is ready to take what she has learned at UW-Superior and share it with the world.
"I know that the program has really prepared me," she said. "I feel extremely confident applying for jobs, knowing that I have the knowledge, background and experiences to be successful.
"It has been a huge time commitment. It's been a significant amount of money, but I don't regret it at all. I know that the role that I'll hold someday and the wider effect that I'll have on students and staff alike will be even greater."
D'Ambrosio still finds time to coach boys' youth basketball and baseball for her 8 and 10-year-old sons' various teams. She expects to be doing the same for her 4-year-old daughter down the road.
"I love coaching my children. We also live in an awesome area for recreation, so, a lot of our time is spent outside hiking, fishing, reading or chasing our two Bernese mountain dogs."
She dreams of one day becoming a principal, a director of instruction, a superintendent or higher.
"You don't go into education if you don't love everything about it," she said.
Learn more about UW-Superior's MSE – Educational Administration online program.
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