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Trio Showcases Leadership in Maricopa


(Reprinted with Permission from Arizona K-12 Center’s October 2014 E-Newsletter)

In any arena, dedication and fortitude are required to overcome obstacles. Three National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) in the Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) are clear examples of educators committed to conquering challenges, exercising persistence for the good of their educational community.

NBCTs Jen Robinson, Ed.D., Principal at Maricopa Elementary School, Heidi Vratil, MUSD Professional Development Coordinator, and Angelia Ebner, second grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary School, are known for their positive influence. While each holds their respective role, they work together to cultivate change that continues to captivate the attention of district leadership.

“We want students to be lifelong learners and responsible citizens. It’s not just about reading and math scores, but allowing each student to see their potential,” said MUSD Superintendent, Steve Chestnut, Ed.D. “These women are three great examples of educators stepping up and affecting the entire district.”

According to Dr. Chestnut, the vision of the governing board is to become an A-rated school district. But, achieving this excellence is easier said than done—the district faces underlying challenges.

Arizona K12 Center’s Master Teacher Project Director, Andrew Ward, says the trio isn’t working for short-term benefits, but long-term success.

“Some of the challenges they face are programs being underfunded, sustainability of programs at district and building [school site] level, and the community at large buying into something new and better. They have tapped additional resources and are being very proactive in their approach,” said Ward.

Despite obstacles, Dr. Robinson, Ebner and Vratil are using their strengths to enhance professional development within the district.

Leadership looks different for each person. Robinson explained she wouldn’t have guessed she’d be serving as principal of Maricopa Elementary School District. Ebner is very active within the local teacher’s union and said she’s always wanted to be a leader within the field. Vratil said her district role stems from her passion to grow teachers.   

“It was during the National Board Certification process that I realized I wanted to have a greater impact. I moved out of the classroom into an instructional coaching role, realizing I could impact different teachers and classrooms on the campus. Because of National Board and training with the Arizona K12 Center, I began pursuing my doctorate,” said Robinson. “That is when I realized I wanted to be a principal, which means having an impact on a different level.”

Vratil, who is in her second year as the ‘coach of coaches,’ impacts Maricopa educators in an unmatchable way.

“I support our academic coaches in their work with teachers. The majority of our coaches are new to their roles and figuring out the best way to coach, mentor, consult with, and support our teachers. I help to provide some structure for them in their role and encourage them to take risks in working with their teachers,” said the MUSD professional development coach. “I love my job!”

Ebner also expressed her love for the profession.

“I enjoy helping others see the potential in themselves. Growing up, I was the funny kid, and that’s what I felt I had to offer. When you see students come into your classroom with similar defense mechanisms, or at the ripe old age of 8, they peg themselves as ‘x’ for the rest of their lives. You can’t help but want to change how they perceive themselves and improve that self-image,” explained Ebner. “I don’t feel like being a teacher leader is innate, but for me I think its something that has been inspired and cultivated, especially through my work with Dr. Robinson.”

Together, these difference makers are trying to create a ripple effect felt district-wide.

“We want our students to understand that there are bigger and better things out there. They can reach tall goals,” Ebner said. “I believe 100 percent that the staff at my school [Maricopa Elementary] has bought in, and we’re swimming in the same direction to work on these common goals. Trying to change that much in a short amount of time is never easy.”

Regardless of the demand, these women say they will continue to strive for progress in their district.

“We are looking to see how we can move forward and grow the National Board experience in our district. We recognize that process is powerful and enlightening. We know that it creates confidence and allows teachers to articulate their practice,” Robinson said.                                                

Vratil and Ebner echo Robinson’s call to enhance the number of NBCTs in the MUSD. While some may not choose to undergo this one- to three-year process, there are other ways educators can participate in professional development with the Arizona K12 Center.

“My hopes and dreams include growing the next group of teacher leaders for MUSD to take on the challenges of coaching and mentoring with us. In addition, I would like to see our teacher leaders take on administration roles. The key to those in teacher leadership positions is that they all focus on students and growing teacher practice,” Vratil said.    

For more information about professional development events at the Arizona K12 Center, visit:

School Supplies

44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy | Maricopa, AZ 85138 | (520) 568-5100

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