Take Your Career Beyond the Classroom as a Program Administrator

November 9, 2023

Hannah Mhoon is working on a graduate degree in the educational leadership program at the University of Arkansas. She works as an academic support interventionist at Springdale High School, assisting teachers with best practices in literacy.

Any motivated educator looking to move beyond the classroom to lead as a program administrator will find an inspirational role model in Christy Smith, assistant professor of practice in the educational leadership program at the University of Arkansas.

Smith’s career took her from the classroom, where she taught history and social studies for 11 years in Farmington, Arkansas, to the principal’s office, where she served first as a middle school principal in Cedarville and then as an assistant high school principal at Springdale High School, both also in Arkansas.

While at SHS, Smith completed coursework for the doctorate in Educational Leadership through the U of A, where she also earned an Educational Specialist and Master of Education in Educational Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Education in Secondary Education. After six years at SHS, Smith was promoted to a district position as a special education supervisor (which is a type of program administrator), then the director of special education for the Springdale School District, now the largest school district in Arkansas. Smith oversaw the delivery of services to more than 2,300 students with disabilities in more than 30 buildings. She retired in 2016 and then got a “wonderful opportunity” to work for her alma mater. She was appointed to the U of A faculty in August 2019.

“I’ve come full circle professionally, and now I am teaching students who are working on their master’s and Educational Specialist degrees,” Smith says.


Educators Thrive in Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction Degree Program

According to Smith, the Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction concentration for program administrators is designed for teachers interested in progressing into leadership roles but not currently interested in becoming principals or superintendents.

“It’s for educators who want to go beyond their master’s degree and support other teachers,” she says. “If they choose to focus on the administrative component, it gives them an opportunity to help coach teachers in curriculum practices and instructional strategies to help them be better in their work.”

Smith explains that most students with specialist degrees in curriculum and instruction work in education at the district level.

“They are supporting principals and teachers in individual buildings,” she says. “They are in that liaison capacity between assistant superintendents and the buildings.”


What Is a Program Administrator?

A program administrator oversees and coordinates various educational programs and initiatives within a school or school district. The program administrator’s role involves managing and implementing curriculum programs, evaluating instructional materials, and supporting teachers and staff. Program administrators may also collaborate with other administrators, parents, and community members to develop and improve educational programs, ensure compliance with academic standards and policies, and assess program effectiveness.

Additionally, program administrators may handle budgeting and resource allocation and monitoring and reporting on program outcomes.


What Will Students Learn Through the Ed.S. Curriculum and Instruction Online Program?

The Ed.S. in Curriculum and Instruction online degree program consists of 15 hours of foundational courses designed to build the student’s overall curriculum and instruction skills. Students must then complete at least 15 hours of additional coursework in one of four specialty skills such as program administration, K-12 online teaching, literacy/dyslexia and education examiner.

“I currently have a student that has a background as a teacher very similar to mine,” Smith notes. “This student wants to be very well-rounded, so she has taken some technology classes and some classes that are in the special education program. Another course that she’s considering taking is about community partnerships. As a program administrator, this will help her facilitate the development of those really strong cohesive relationships between the school and members in the community and especially families.”

Smith describes the foundation courses in the educational specialist degree program as a “smorgasbord” where students can pick and choose topics to match their interests and goals and build on their existing classroom experience.

“They will learn how schools operate,” she explains. “They take a leadership ethics class, a class in how to analyze and use data to make decisions, and a class in effective leadership for change. Education is constantly changing. We have certainly seen that over the last three years since the pandemic.”

Hannah Mhoon was a student at Springdale High School when Christy Smith, U of A assistant professor of practice in the educational leadership program, worked as assistant principal of the school. Smith mentors working professionals such as Mhoon through her role at the U of A.


Lifelong Learning

Smith was a classroom teacher for 10 years when she decided to become a principal. After finishing her master’s degree at U of A, she went right into the Ed.S. program and then into the doctoral program in educational leadership (The doctoral program requires one on-campus meeting per semester.) Her educational path mirrors that of many teachers. According to Smith, teachers will typically have five to 10 years of experience in the classroom before pursuing a master’s degree and then progressing on to an Educational Specialist degree.

“A lot of educators really are just lifelong learners,” she believes. “They enjoy the rigor of being in that kind of a learning environment.”

They also appreciate the flexibility the Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction online program offers them.


Online Learning for Working Educators

Smith explains that the U of A online program has been specifically designed for working teachers.

“Many teachers have families and other interests,” she explains. “It’s just not feasible for them to physically drive to campus and earn their degree in a face-to-face format.”

The flexibility of the educational specialist program is explicitly designed around educators’ working schedules while maximizing the opportunity to connect with their peers and faculty.

“The Educational Leadership courses are synchronous and are offered on Wednesday evenings,” Smith says. “This means they meet at a specific time, allowing them to create those networks with other students. When we offer asynchronous or hybrid classes, we are very intentional in ensuring that students have opportunities to create those groups of colleagues they can reach out to in the future and bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with.

“Schools usually have activities in the evening on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday,” she says. “Many religious organizations have Wednesday evening service, so schools will typically avoid Wednesday evenings for activities. So, we intentionally run our courses on Wednesday evenings. That way, it does not conflict with a teacher who might be a choir director and has choir practice on a Tuesday night.”

The Curriculum & Instruction courses are asynchronous, which enables students to complete work on their own timetable.


Hitting the Ground Running

To ensure that graduates can “hit the ground running,” students in the Ed.S. program participate in an internship where they work with a mentor and accumulate 216 hours of experience. This approach, Smith says, “helps them to know what it looks like when they get a job as a curriculum administrator for a school district, what their relationship will look like with the principals and superintendents in the school district where they work and what kind of network they need to have with the state Department of Education. All of this is important because they will be working in all those camps.”

And because the program is online, students from all over the country can enroll.

“I’ve had students from Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, New York, Florida, South Carolina and Virginia,” Smith says. “We always make sure that our students understand that they have to get clarity from their individual states about licensure requirements. If they want to become a curriculum administrator in Oklahoma, for example, we make sure that we are working with that student and giving them the best information so that they can achieve their career goals through our program.”


Preparation for Education Specialist Jobs

Smith explains that the demand for education leaders in Arkansas and beyond is increasing.

“The Arkansas legislature recently passed a big omnibus bill,” she notes. “Part of this bill requires every school district in Arkansas to have not only a superintendent but at least one assistant superintendent.”

In Arkansas, in particular, there is an imminent skills shortage, with many educational leaders approaching retirement age.

“We’re getting to that cliff-edge moment where a lot of people are going to be leaving those roles at the district level,” Smith says. “We need to make sure that there are plenty of students who have obtained the licensure and credentials and are ready to move into those roles.”


Making an Impact

Highlighting her own career trajectory as an example, Smith believes that many teachers want to advance in their careers to make a positive impact beyond their classrooms.

“In my experience, I had plateaued and was ready for a change,” Smith says. “I had a couple of really wonderful administrators who gave me the opportunity to take on some leadership roles in our school, and it made a huge difference for me. I had never really considered becoming a program administrator, but then I realized that if I were a classroom teacher, I would have the opportunity to make an impact on, at the most, 150 students a year. I realized that if I did a good job in a more senior role and helped teachers do a good job, then the opportunity for me to make an impact was exponentially greater.”

The promise of a more varied career is also significant.

“As a classroom teacher, I knew exactly what I was going to be doing all day, every day,” Smith says. “But as an administrator, I had no control over my calendar. I would deal with whatever arose. I was constantly putting out fires. But in doing so, I was removing barriers to help teachers be able to do their job.”


Why the University of Arkansas ONLINE?

The ability to study for an Educational Specialist degree online from the only Research 1 (R1) institution in Arkansas is a significant factor in attracting students to the program.

“We have a beautiful mix of scholarship with practical application,” Smith says. “We have faculty members who have experience in K-12, and we have people who are solid researchers. You really need both because the research should inform what we do in the classroom.”

Smith is also quick to highlight the connections students can make through the U of A.

“As the flagship university in the state of Arkansas, we have a lot of diversity in our programs,” Smith says. “It’s just a great place to get your education and to have that foundational network of colleagues that are going to be able to support you throughout the rest of your career.”


Learn More

Visit the U of A ONLINE website to learn more about how the Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction degree can help you progress in your career and create meaningful change in the classroom and beyond.

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Educational Specialist in Curriculum and Instruction

Distinguish yourself academically and professionally by earning this post-master’s degree. Build your overall curriculum and instruction skills with at least 15 hours of foundational courses and also develop specialty skills by completing at least 15 hours of concentration coursework.

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