By Julia Straka, ’21

The Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) program at SPCS has an impressive track record of landing graduates exciting promotions and education awards. The program is intended for those with experience in education looking to move up to principal and superintendent positions in Virginia public schools. However, many graduates use their ELPS degrees in other, creative ways. 

Robert Stevens II, GC’17, took a more straight-forward approach to his career in education. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Old Dominion University as a management and marketing major, he worked as a marketing teacher for the Virginia Department of Correctional Education. That’s when he discovered his passion for working with children and business education.

However, Stevens became attracted to leadership and school administration early in his career and earned a Master of Educational Leadership from Virginia State University.

Stevens realized in order to achieve his goal of becoming an administrator, he would need either a doctorate or a post-graduate certificate. After a colleague raved about her SPCS experience, Stevens enrolled in the ELPS post-master’s certification program. 

After graduation, Stevens served as the Assistant Principal of Varina High School. He recently became the Associate Principal of CodeRVA Regional High School, which innovates education with technology and integrated content and prepares students for careers in computer science. 

However, the ELPS program isn’t just for those seeking to become principals in public high schools. Jean Baker, GC’19, used her master’s degree in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies to become the Manager of Membership and Outreach at the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS).

Baker was always attracted to education, but realized early on that she did not want to teach. She majored in religious studies at the University of Virginia; she liked the value and flexibility of a liberal arts degree. Baker worked a number of entry-level jobs after graduation in various industries: marketing, event planning and human resources. Though she was using the skills she developed in school, something was off: “the context and industry never felt right,” Baker said. 

Then a lightbulb went off: she could work in the administration of an independent school. She loved the close community and support at the private school she went to herself and applied for an admissions position that opened up at St. Catherine’s School. Once at St. Catherine’s, she finally felt content: “Everything that didn't feel right [before] was solved,” she said. 

Baker's professors played a crucial role in her promotion to NCGS: “I give credit to the professors for saying ‘what’s next?’” she said. This pressure forced her to reflect on her own goals and pursue opportunities on “a bigger stage” at NCGS, where she can take the lead and work with hundreds of girls’ schools rather than just one. 

Stevens echoes the value that the program put on reflection. Right from the start, Stevens was asked to think about his vision and the motivation behind it. And his practicum course professor emphasized reflection by asking students to get into the habit of playing back their workdays and meetings.

For Stevens, the practicum portion of the program was one of its highlights. With the help of well-connected professors, Stevens completed quality internships, where he contributed real work and developed valuable relationships.

The role field experience plays in ELPS is its distinguishing factor, in Steven’s opinion. While the curriculum at VSU was more classroom-based, ELPS complemented traditional lessons by putting them into practice. 

His new workplace, CodeRVA, also places high value on internships: “It's what we're asking of students now,” said Stevens, “It's one thing to read and research something and another thing to read about it, research it, practice it and then come back to the table and discuss it.” The importance of reflection comes full circle; Stevens now communicates its importance to his own students. 

Baker agrees that ELPS gave her an edge through its focus on practical experience and public speaking. Baker appreciates the many opportunities that her SPCS classes gave her to get up and talk in front of her peers. Those assignments prepared her to speak in front of high-powered individuals, both from member schools and from the NCGS Board of Governors, in her current role. 

The program also prepared Baker well for the NCGS interview itself; mock interviews with professors gave her a leg up in the strenuous hiring process at NCGS, which included an on-the-spot spreadsheet exercise and a 30-minute presentation to the hiring managers about their own company. 

Though Baker and Stevens pursued quite different career paths, they both appreciated the flexibility of the program. While Stevens took a more traditional route, the high school he works at is anything but traditional. Stevens’ professors frequently urged him to keep his mind open to wherever his career may take him, and he claims this openness helped him land his job at the innovative, specialized Code RVA High School. 

At the same time, even though Baker was not aiming for a school administration job, the program’s curriculum was still relevant: “Everyone in education needs to be informed [...] We need to know the language of curriculum and supervision [and how to] talk to teachers and know what they do,” she said. She was also able to reap the most from professors who work with students on an individual basis, with an understanding of their personal needs and interests.

Pictured: Robert Stevens & Jean Baker