Amy Zapatka is the dean of school culture at Achievement First, a charter school in Providence, RI. She chose to complete her Master of Education degree at the University of San Diego because the school catered to full-time educators and was well known for its rigorous content. She was also drawn to USD’s program because of its focus on cognitive theory, ethics, equity and social justice. We sat down with Amy recently to discuss her experience at USD and learn how she is using her degree to further social justice in education. Here’s a bit of what she had to say.
- Why did you decide to get your Master of Education degree with a specialization in curriculum and design?
In my current role my job is specific to behavior intervention and teacher coaching. However, I was a teacher for eight years. At the time I started the program it was a natural fit. Even in my current role, however, I use what I learned in my specialization courses frequently as I still do a lot of academic planning and the teachers in my leadership team often come to me with questions around content. The level of education I have now and the content I now understand very deeply will be hugely beneficial if I eventually step into a principle position or a district role where I would be writing curriculum. I feel my degree is very applicable to wherever my career in education takes me.
- Why did you choose the University of San Diego?
When I started looking into different programs I was really struck by the course work at the University of San Diego and the rigor in its programing.
The other thing that was really important to me was their focus on becoming change makers and making our world more equitable. Equity in education is something I take very seriously — it’s a passion of mine and it’s what I have dedicated my life and career to. Doing coursework that integrated equity, studying the inequality that is still happening in our country and having those uncomfortable discussions on topics that people are afraid to talk about like the achievement gap and race in the United States— that’s what I really wanted out of a program and I found that at USD. There was not one course that didn’t include some element of equity.
- What other schools were you considering?
I looked into George Washington’s program and there were some other online programs I explored but I couldn’t even tell you what they were because they didn’t interest me. I’m a pretty decisive person and if I find something that I think is high quality I will jump on it. That was the situation with USD’s Master of Education program.
- How did the University of San Diego’s master degree program help you get to where you are today?
Having a master’s degree makes me more marketable as an educator but more importantly, it helps me make informed decisions as a school leader. Now I am able to make sound decisions that are rooted in research-based practices. As a result of the program I have developed a better schema around behavior management and cognition. In all the coursework we did at USD, everything was based around action research. So for example, when we were studying certain theories we are expected to integrate those theories into our classrooms. USD’s program is all about theory in action and having a greater impact on your classroom or school.
- What did you like best about the University of San Diego’s Master of Education program?
I loved the flexibility of the program and I liked that I could engage in really rigorous discussions and readings while managing my work/life balance at the same time. I could manage my workload in the way that worked best for me. As I already mentioned, the element of social justice was really enjoyable and important to me. Also, the theory in action concept helped me to truly internalize the material we were learning and at the same time have a greater impact on my teachers and students. A lot of the coursework I did I was able to integrate right into my classrooms, especially the tech integration piece.
- Do you think getting a master’s degree is important for teachers?
Absolutely. It’s applicable for any teacher in the classroom because you can really build your reputation as an educator while gaining a better understanding of pedagogy and theory. If you know that you want to step into a leadership role, a master’s degree is absolutely essential. If you take your experience and marry that with what you learn in your master’s program you are able to make very sound decisions based on theory and best practices.
- What advice would you give to someone that is considering pursuing a Master of Education degree?
Be honest with yourself about the amount of time that you will have to invest on a weekly basis in order to get coursework done. On average I would spend 5-7 hours a week on coursework. It is a big time ask so it’s important to know how to manage your time correctly — especially if you’re working full time. Plan your weeks in advance so you can manage your school work, responsibilities at work and still leave a little time for yourself as well.
- How would you describe your experience overall?
My experience was very positive — I learned a lot. I would recommend the program to anyone looking to get their advanced degree, especially the online program because of the flexibility it offers.
I was actually so struck by the program that I flew my parents and myself out to San Diego for my graduation. I wanted to meet my professors and see the campus. I even got to meet some of the other students in the program that I had known virtually but never met in person. It was really neat to put faces to names at graduation.
- What did you think of your professors and the program format?
I appreciated that every course I took, from beginning to end, followed the same exact sequence. For example, discussion questions for every course were always due on Friday or Saturday; feedback to peers and final projects were always due on Monday. This reliable schedule makes time management that much easier. The majority of professors are pretty quick to respond to emails or hop on the phone if necessary to give feedback or as a thought partner. Suzanne Stolz, the program coordinator, is fantastic and will get back to you within 24 hours. She is phenomenal.
10. Why did you choose to go into education in the first place?
Well I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I would play school with my younger brother and sister and I was always the teacher. It was just a natural path for me. Once I got in front of kids and started student teaching it came very naturally to me. Things don’t normally come naturally to me but teaching did.
But the real question should actually be, why did I get into education reform? I had been teaching for only two years in Rhode Island when I moved to DC and was working in one of the poorest neighborhoods and the school was absolutely struggling – the district was sending the worst teachers to teach children from lower socio-economic levels and children of color. This was a shame because the President’s children were receiving a world class education right down the road. This was happening in our nation’s capital! Since then I have moved all around the country working for organizations that are trying to make education choice and education equity a reality in our country.”
If you are interested in pursuing a Master of Education degree, the University of San Diego accepts students on a rolling basis in the fall, spring and summer for admission into our 100% online Master of Education degree program — which offers five distinct specializations, STEAM, Curriculum & Instruction, Literacy & Digital Learning, Inclusive Learning, and School Leadership. To learn more about this unique program and to see if it is the right fit for you, speak with a USD admissions advisor.