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Welcome to the newsletter of the UIC EdD program in Urban Education Leadership. If you have items to be considered for submission, please forward them to
November 2020

In this issue...

In this issue you will read about a range of news, including:

  • Current student and alumni appointments
  • Program announcements
  • News on UIC-affiliated schools
  • EdD Information Session dates for 2020-2021
  • Superintendent Endorsement Information
Leadership is Essential
When we describe school leadership's facets, essentially all leadership behaviors reside within Leithwood's three categories: developing vision, developing systems, and developing people. Our focus for this month is to explore the latter category.

In our program, we devote extensive time with our novice school leaders exploring how to develop teachers' capacities to lead and learn. Of course, this is critical to understanding how the distribution of leadership is "stretched" across multiple actors. What if we carry this logic one step further? If we want to develop "leadership dense schools," could the next frontier of school leadership mean developing student leadership? There are a few models of developing student leaders, such as youth participatory action research. 
Youth participatory action research (YPAR) is youth-driven research and advocacy involving adult partners (Bertrand, 2019). Groups of students partner with adults to conduct inquiry cycles to solve systemic school problems that often have a social justice focus. There are examples in the literature of student-led inquiries into strands of work, such as the over-representation of students of color in school discipline data and under-representing students of color in honors/AP courses. Just as the principal and assistant principals build the capacity of teacher leaders to better understand how to conduct ongoing cycles of inquiry, in YPAR, teacher leaders build student leaders' capacity to advance such work. Moreover, the principal and assistant principal(s) facilitate the teacher leaders' development to ensure the student leadership development. 
Empowering urban youth, specifically, students of color, to explore inequitable school structures affords the opportunity for authentic ownership of their own learning. School then becomes a space where students see their identities reflected into the school's fabric because the issues that matter the most to students are being solved, primarily, by students. In other words, students will come to understand and feel that teachers not only care about their academic success but will truly value them as human beings because they are seen and felt as partners in the work of school improvement. Consequently, trust may further permeate the school because students/teachers can deepen their relationships if students have more ownership of the school culture. For more information about youth participatory action research, please see the Leadership Resources section below. 

Congratulations to our Fall 2020 Graduates!
Congratulations to:
Dr. Sharon Sprague (Cohort 14), Director of Early Childhood | Evanston/Skokie D65
Dr. Rebecca Bancroft (Cohort 15, CLC 6), Assistant Principal | Back of the Yards College Prep HS
Dr. Michael Stosek (Cohort 12, CLC 2), Principal | Wells Community Academy High School
Dr. Jasmine Juárez (Cohort 15, CLC 6), Principal | Pilsen Community Academy

Dr. Amy Vondra Extends Contract as Principal of
Alexander Hamilton Elementary School
Dr. Amy Vondra (Cohort 10, CLC 1) The LSC at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School recently voted to extend her principal contract for an additional 4 years.  For the past nine years, Vondra has held school leadership positions in the Chicago Public Schools.  After her residency at Fulton Elementary, Vondra served as the Assistant Principal at Wells Community Academy from 2013-2017. During her tenure at Wells, she led the climate and culture team and co-lead the ILT.  Under her leadership at Hamilton, she and Assistant Principal Meghan Brewer (Cohort 14, CLC 5) built a culture of inquiry, designed structures for ongoing professional learning, and fostered a culture focused on student growth and ambitious instruction.  External to work at CPS, Dr. Vondra also serves as an adjunct faculty member with the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She teaches the first half of the Practitioner Inquiry for School Leaders course sequence (586a).


Dr. Nia Abdullah named Executive Director of MAPSCorps

MAPSCorps is thrilled to announce the selection of Nia Abdullah, EdD (Cohort 8)  as its new Executive Director. 

Stacy Lindau, MD, MAPP, President of the Board of Directors, remarks, “Dr. Abdullah brings immense catalytic energy with true, enduring and data-driven commitment to ensuring every young person in her midst has the opportunity and skills to achieve their fullest potential. Like MAPSCorps, she is passionate about science and civic engagement and understands the inextricable link between the two.” 

Dr. Abdullah’s vast experience in educational leadership and STEM, and her passion for social justice perfectly align with MAPSCorps’ mission to empower youth to leverage data to improve the human condition, especially within historically underserved communities. Dr. Abdullah brings with her more than 16 years of experience in education as a high school principal, curriculum and data coordinator, and mathematics teacher.  Raised by a family of educators, she now advocates for educational equity and relies on research-based best practices to improve organizations, with a focus on leadership development and continuous improvement.

As a school and district leader, Dr. Abdullah spearheaded the creation of state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing and pre-engineering labs, dramatically improved the number of students passing college-level Advanced Placement exams, increased the high school four-year graduation rate, and improved numerous school culture metrics. Because of these contributions, she was selected to serve on the Illinois State Board of Education’s Remote Learning Recommendations Committee, one of only eight principals from across the state. 

Asked about her vision for the future, Dr. Abdullah remarks, “MAPSCorps not only empowers youth to understand the data collected using our innovative community mapping model but will also develop the cognitive and non-cognitive skills young people need to become civic leaders who successfully advocate for the resources needed to fully transform historically underserved communities.” 

Dr. Abdullah holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from Howard University and an Ed.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago Urban Education Leadership Program. Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, she is committed to cultivating the social, emotional, and behavioral health of young people while supporting them academically.  

Since 2016, MAPSCorps, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, has trained youth to produce high-quality data about community assets that everyone can use to improve the human condition. Learn more at The Board of Directors recognizes Chicago-based Compass Pro Bono and Julie Silverstein & Partners for invaluable pro bono leadership transition consulting throughout the process. 

First Bezos Academy opens in Des Moines, Washington

Under the leadership of Dr. Michael Abello (Cohort 10), Head of Education, the first Bezos Academy opened in in Des Moines, Washington.  The mission of the Bezos Academy is to provide greater access to high-quality early childhood education in under-resourced communities.  For more information about the Bezos Academy, you may access this resource HERE.


Dr. Shelby Cosner Serving as a Lead Designer to
Two State-wide Principal Development Projects:
TEAM Lead and Partners to Lead
Dr. Shelby Cosner is taking a lead role with the design of a multi-year, multifaceted school leader development program that is currently having broad impact in the state of Illinois through two federally funded projects (16M SEED and EIR). Both projects were initially conceptualized and are being delivered by Illinois State University, in collaboration with four Regional Educational Offices in Illinois. Taken collectively these two projects provides a multifaceted program of development and support to roughly 150 school principals in urban, rural and suburban settings throughout the state of Illinois. 

The purpose of these two multi-year projects, TEAM Lead and Partners to Lead, is to increase principal effectiveness in areas that lead to increases in student achievement with particular attention to helping principals use and lead cycles of inquiry to support school-wide problem finding and solving.  In this work, Cosner has been the lead designer of a multi-year large group development experience for principals. She has also provided development to: a) trainers who deliver large group development in the four regional areas, b) a state-wide cadre of leadership coaches, all retired school and system leaders, who work individually with each of the 150 principals, c) and system-level leaders who are currently working directly with these 150 principals.  Given the importance of this work, it is being studied for its impact by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). You can read more about this project at the following website:


International Work by Cosner and Center for Urban Education Leadership Extended

Over the last several years Dr. Shelby Cosner has been working to deepen and extend her/the center’s (CUEL) international work following her field-based, school leader development research in India and her related work leading an international research team that examined school leader development in five national contexts in the Global East and South--India, Lebanon, South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco.  In addition to this international research team, CUEL has also recently received a grant from the Qatar Foundation that will support an international study of more innovative schools from a diverse set of national contexts.

The study will investigate the leadership ecosystem that exists within and beyond these schools and seek to understand the unique features of these schools’ adult learning organizations.  CUEL team members Shelby Cosner, Sam Whalen, Martha Hebert, and Meagan Richard will be engaged in this study.  Cosner’s work also extends beyond these research activities. She is also now a Senior Advisor and Co-facilitator of an international network, the WISE Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network (ALL-IN). This network is a global community of practice for educational leadership experts – including academics, program providers, practitioners and policymakers – that research, design, and advocate for high quality school leadership policies and programs that prepare and support school leaders; particularly those in the Global East and South.  The Qatar Ministry of Education is also currently engaging Cosner to design and deliver a school leader development program for Qatar’s school principals and leadership teams. 


Stone Early Childhood Education Fellows

For the past five years, the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation is provided generous support to our Urban Education Leadership Program students to advance early childhood education.  This year, we are proud to announce our Stone Early Childhood Education Fellows:
Dr. Folasade Adekunle, Principal | Sayre Language Academy
Jessie Chen, Assistant Principal | Deneen Elementary School
Romian Crockett, Principal | Chalmers School of Excellence
Turan Crockett, Principal | Howe School of Excellence
Ashley Hegwood, Assistant Principal | Ashburn Community Elementary School
Mike Kosko, Assistant Principal | Alexander Graham Bell Elementary School
Elaine McFarlane, Assistant Principal | OA Thorp Scholastic Academy
Dr. Sharon Sprague, Director of Early Childhood | Evanston/Skokie D65

Dr. Joe Shoffner presents at the George W. Bush Institute School Leadership Initiative

Congratulations to UIC Ed.D. graduate and leadership coach Dr. Joseph Shoffner (Cohort 7) for representing the UIC Ed.D. Program in a virtual panel presentation on the UIC/CPS partnership for the George W. Bush Institute School Leadership Initiative on October 29. Shoffner was the transformational principal at McClellan Elementary School for 9 years. 

The UIC Ed.D. Program has for some time been engaged with four prominent national organizations that are focusing on Local Educational Agencies partnering with Institutions of Higher Ed (LEA/IHE partnerships) to improve principal preparation and development.  These are the George W. Bush Institute School Leadership Initiative; Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the Educator Preparation Lab (at Stanford’s Learning Policy Institute) and the Wallace Foundation.  Ed.D. faculty and staff, together with our CPS partners, often make presentations at convenings of these organizations, and we try to learn from the presentation of others.  In this most recent convening, Dr. Shoffner joined CPS Executive Director of Principal Quality, Dr. Zipporah Hightower, and past Ed.D. Program Coordinator Steve Tozer for a panel presentation for four schools districts from Texas, Utah, and Virginia that are attempting to build stronger principal pipelines.  


Dr. Cristina Menendez publishes article
in Jounral of American Folklore

Dr. Cristina Menendez, also Cohort 7 of our Ed.D. Program, was once the Assistant Principal at Roberto Clemente High School before becoming an impactful principal at an Rock Island Elementary, a high-need school in Broward County, Florida.  After her widely-recognized impact there, Tina went on to become Vice President and Director of Education for the HistoryMiami Museum. Tina has presented on museum education at the Smithsonian Institute, and recently, she was coauthor of an article in the Journal of American Folklore:  American Folklife: Fostering Cultural Equity at HistoryMiami Museum. To quote the article, it “ highlights efforts at relationship-building, facilitating, and not prescribing opportunities for community self-expression and cross-cultural connections, co-creating public offerings with tradition-bearers and community partners, and evaluating and adjusting our methods as we strive to represent our city’s mix of cultures.” Congratulations go out to Tina for continuing to have impact in education.

Leadership Resources

Below is an abstract from the paper written by Melanie Bertrand entitled, "Youth Participatory Action Research and Possibilities for Students of Color in Educational Leadership". Here is the LINK to the paper. 

"Background and Purpose: Students of Color hold intimate knowledge about institutional racism and White supremacy in schools—expertise that could be leveraged in school leadership. One approach that could mediate efforts to include Students of Color in leadership is youth participatory action research (YPAR), in which students and adult partners research school and community issues and take action. Guided by cultural historical activity theory, this article explores how YPAR may be a path to realizing the vision of including Students of Color in school decision making by sharing findings from a study of an after-school YPAR program for seventh and eighth graders. Research Methods/Approach: A range of data was collected, including videos of YPAR meetings and presentations and interviews with YPAR youth and school adults. Ethnographic and inductive approaches were used to analyze the data. Findings: Analysis of the data indicated that students within the YPAR program (re)positioned themselves as leaders through their production and presentation of intersectional, social justice research. School adults, however, positioned the students in contradictory ways. They verbalized support for student input without also positioning students as leaders while, in some cases, dismissing the students’ research and viewpoints. Implications: This article adds to the educational leadership field by indicating that YPAR and similar programs can act as mediators to increase the potential for Students of Color to expand their leadership at schools by shining light on existing leadership and opening up possibilities for students to further reposition themselves as leaders."

In 2019, this paper won the Davis award for the top paper published in Education Administration Quarterly. 




Upcoming EdD Information Sessions
We have dates for the 2020-2021 Information Sessions. 
If you'd like to register, click this link HERE.

12/5/2020, 9:00 – 10:30
1/23/2021, 9:00 – 10:30
2/11/2021, 3:30 – 4:30
3/6/2021, 9:00 – 10:30
3/25/2021, 3:30 – 4:30
  4/24/2021, 9:00 – 10:30
5/4/2021, 3:30 – 4:30
  5/22/2021, 9:00 – 10:30
  6/26/2021, 9:00 – 10:30

All sessions will be held via Zoom


For general program inquiries you may contact Dr. Cynthia Barron ( or Dr. Jason Swanson ( If you have any questions about the application process, please contact Elise Wilson (
Superintendent Program
We are now accepting applications for the newly revamped superintendent program. If you are interested in learning whether the new UIC Superintendent program is the right match for you, we encourage you to fill out an interest form. At the end of the interest form, you will see a prompt to submit your resume to Superintendent Program Coordinator, Dr. Cynthia Barron ( Shortly after your submission, she will contact you to set up a phone call to learn more about your background. For any questions about the program, do not hesitate to reach out to Dr. Barron.  
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