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University of St. Thomas

University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas

KTA Honors Retiring Dean at University of St. Thomas Houston After 6 Years of Partnership

Kayce Warden

Kayce Warden, off-campus M.Ed. grad

For the last six years, the University of St. Thomas Houston (UST) and the K-12 Teachers Alliance (KTA) have partnered to provide affordable, high-quality Master of Education programs across the Greater Houston area. The goal of these programs is to make highly-ranked Master of Education degrees, such as those offered by UST, available to all students, regardless of how close they live to campus.

When Master of Education student Kayce Warden was considering a master's degree, she wanted a program that offered face-to-face instruction and would accommodate her firefighter husband's irregular schedule while raising her three-year-old son. She began the University of St. Thomas Houston's off-campus master's program in spring 2010, taking classes close to home at CyRidge High School.

Warden was a member of the first group of about 139 students in UST's off-campus Master of Education program coordinated by the K-12 Teachers Alliance. The first graduating class received their diplomas on Dec. 16, 2011. Since inception, more than 1,500 students have graduated from UST M.Ed. Cohort programs organized by KTA.

The program began in fall 2009 with cohorts in the Aldine and Cy-Fair independent school districts. UST's regular Master of Education curriculum is taught by UST faculty members at 14 different sites in the Greater Houston area, serving about 900 students in the program in a variety of suburban school districts. In 2012, UST and KTA launched online cohort programs, allowing a wider range of students access to UST’s top-notch education programs.

Students can study concentrations in bilingual/dual education, counseling, curriculum and instruction, educational diagnostician, educational leadership, reading and special education.

Warden teaches eighth grade Pre-Algebra at Waller Junior High School in Waller Independent School District. She chose to study curriculum and instruction with the hope of becoming a curriculum coach or instructional specialist. Warden has seen the difference an engaging curriculum can make in students' excitement for learning.

"Junior high students can be a particularly tough crowd to inspire and motivate mathematically," she said. "When students who initially came into my classroom with bad attitudes started coming in with smiles and excitement, realizing they were good at math, I knew all of that work had paid off. I wanted to continue igniting that love for math in more than just my students."

KTA and UST worked together to coordinate their programs to meet the needs of Houston educators. The UST education courses are taught on a seven-week compressed track program, with two courses each semester. Students attend a face-to-face class each week, then complete online assignments as part of a blended program. Students also have the option to complete the program completely online, forgoing face-to-face meetings altogether.

Warden said taking one class at a time makes the course load more manageable.

Rather than having multiple mid-terms, major projects, research papers and finals all happening at the same time, the compressed track courses equally split the course loads," Warden said. "As a teacher and a mom, not having to worry about this has been a huge help and relief."

Joe Mroz, Executive Vice President for University Relations at the K-12 Teachers Alliance says the seven-week format is becoming more common with KTA partner universities.

"Faculty at our partner schools like this format because it allows the students to focus on the learning concepts in each course," Mroz said. "In most traditional programs, students take two regular classes at the same time over 16 weeks. In an off-campus program like the one at UST, students are completing one course in seven weeks."

Warden also said the face-to-face component was a non-negotiable factor to her when choosing a master's program.

"I'm a traditional student," she said. "I like to interact with professors and my peers in person. The face-to-face portion has been wonderful for building relationships with those people who you interact with during the online portion of the class."

Patricia Lyerly, education workshop coordinator, said these classes are a valuable way to extend the UST learning community and meet students close to home.

We are making learning convenient to them," Lyerly said. "They're so busy teaching classes during the day. By making master's classes available close to home, they can take advantage of them."

As KTA and UST continue look to the future, they hope to expand their offerings and footprint across the geographic area. Online programs are growing in popularity and enrollment thanks to UST’s commitment to program quality and the strength of KTA and their membership. In the words of online Educational Leadership Master’s student Katherine Wiseman:

My professors are welcoming and the course content is pertinent and timely. The discussion boards present an opportunity for lively conversation with colleagues and my professors provide stimulating assignments with not only swift, but positive feedback. Choosing UST has been an encouraging experience that will undoubtedly prepare me for a bright future.”

Dr. Robert LeBlanc, Dean of the School of Education and Human Services, has been instrumental to the success of the KTA/UST partnership. In 2015, he announced that he will be retiring at the end of this academic year. In a recent campus visit, the KTA team presented Dr. LeBlanc with an award to thank him for his dedication.

Joe Mroz reflects on Dr. LeBlanc’s involvement in the partnership:

I’m told that the University of St. Thomas is dedicated to educating leaders of faith and character, and it’s hard to imagine a person who embodies those ideals more than Robert. From our earliest meetings on campus, Robert helped us to feel a part of the University of St. Thomas community and laid the groundwork for a true collaborative partnership between our organizations."

Joe, along with everyone at the K-12 Teachers Alliance, wants to thank Robert for his dedication to K-12 teachers and administrators throughout the greater Houston area. We wish him all the best.

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