September 13, 2016 | 4 p.m.
By Whitney Bak ’15, content specialist
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) student Cynthia Maldonado GS’18 believes lifelong learning is a key component of successful leadership. And for her, pursuing higher education has opened the doors to a dream opportunity as principal of Stowe Elementary in Duluth, Minnesota.
Though Maldonado was surprised to be offered a leadership position in a school with an environmental focus—as her main professional emphasis and experience has been with immersion education—she knew she was a great fit for the role after seeing it posted online. “They wanted a ‘lifelong learner,’” she says. “I was easily able to say, ‘I’m 49, and I’m still in school!’ That helped me tremendously.”
Three years ago, Maldonado felt called to a new challenge. With 20 years of teaching under her belt, and having earned her principal licensure in addition to five years of experience as a teaching coach, she was ready to take on the role of principal. But to do so meant leaving behind Minnesota family and friends and traveling cross-country with her husband to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There Maldonado had the opportunity to lead a dual language charter school as its executive director. Maldonado says that her time in Gettysburg taught her how to work alongside and lead people with a different cultural viewpoint from her own. “In Minnesota, we’re all a lot more alike than I realized,” she says, noting how it was a challenge to “break in” to the small town community.
It was in that place of isolation and adjustment to a new culture that a friend of Maldonado’s reached out and suggested she learn more about Bethel’s Ed.D. program. Though she admits she was hesitant at first, Maldonado was intrigued by the community format and flexibility of the program. In a move she can only describe as “lifesaving,” she decided to enroll. “Everybody was so caring and wonderful,” she says. “I thought, ‘now this is what all schools should be like.’”
But Bethel proved to be much more than a lifeline to home. Maldonado says she benefited from connecting with other principals and leaders who were enrolled in the program, and that those connections—combined with Bethel’s supportive learning environment—helped her realize her full potential. “[Bethel] reinforced the idea that I can do whatever I set myself up to do,” she says.
Tracy Reimer, associate professor and leadership in K-12 administration, says she was thrilled to learn of Maldonado’s achievement, as Maldonado had shared during her first course in the program less than one year earlier that returning to Minnesota was a professional goal. “Cynthia exemplifies a reflective, humble, lead learner,” says Reimer. “She is a strong academic student, able to apply course concepts to the K-12 setting.”
Now that she’s back in Minnesota, Maldonado plans to continue on a flexible, every-other-class schedule that will allow her to complete her Bethel Ed.D. coursework and research by 2018. She’s also excited to begin closing the achievement gap at her new school by establishing a stronger sense of community, a goal inspired by her time in the program. “We [created community] at Bethel, and we were online most of the time, so we should be able to do it at our schools as well, where we are together all the time.” She encourages anyone who could benefit from further leadership training to enroll in the program. “It really helped me to raise the bar,” she says. “I tell everybody, ‘you should go there, it’s really great!’”