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UTSA-SAISD collaborative expands its reach

by Jo Ann Jones, COEHD    |    October 26, 2016

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The UTSA Urban School Leadership Collaborative (USLC), a national, award-winning partnership between UTSA and the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), is expanding its program to include three additional school districts in south Bexar County.

Educators and administrators from Southwest, Edgewood, and Harlandale Independent School Districts will comprise the new South Bexar County Cohort of the USLC beginning in January of 2017.

“This expansion is an exciting opportunity for both the students and for us,” said Dr. Encarnacion Garza, Jr., professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the USLC. “We were so willing to expand to south Bexar County because those districts will benefit greatly from the way we prepare the program.”

The USLC South Bexar County cohort will run in tandem with the new SAISD cohort, cohort 8, which will also begin in January. The cohorts will each meet once a week for classes that are team taught by UTSA faculty and USLC graduates.

“We try our best to integrate people who work in the district and who have doctorates to team teach some of the courses with UTSA faculty,” said Garza. “We have graduates of our program in almost every district that know the philosophy. They know the USLC mission and the vision and I think it’s going to strengthen the program.”

The curriculum for both programs focuses on developing socially just and transformative leaders. The two-year, 36-hour graduate program weaves research with self-reflection and self-discovery to prepare participants to become social justice advocates and leaders.

“Social justice is really the glue that sticks our program together,” said Dr. Juan Manuel Niño, assistant professor and co-director of USLC. “We don’t prioritize the textbooks, but the philosophy, the mindset of the professors that align with the social justice tenants. Sometimes it’s difficult with certain courses, but I think we can imbed social justice and equity issues in any given class.”

Participants in both cohorts will work on their autoethnography during the entirety of the program and will present their papers at the annual University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) conference in the program’s last semester.

“That’s where our program focuses, not so much on the skillset, but on the individual,” said Niño. “We focus on the self and on the development of the individual, but at the same time, we also use the development as a knowledge base and theory that the students can present at an academic conference.”

At the end of the program, the participants will earn their Master’s of Education in Educational Leadership and will be fully certified teacher appraisers and educational administrators.

“This program is not easy,” said Garza. “They have to write a lot and read a lot, but the hardest part is internal. They have to come to grips with who they are as a person and as a leader.”

The new South Bexar County cohort was made possible through an endowment from UTSA alumni Steve and Tami Griffin. The Griffins, who are residents of Southwest ISD, liked the USLC model being used in SAISD and wanted to use their gift to help expand it to south Bexar County and develop more educational leaders.

“The conversations we have center on what being a leader is all about, and they are powerful,” said Niño. “Sometimes these conversations are very uncomfortable to have, but we need to have them in order to build a more equitable community.”

The USLC, which is housed in the College of Education and Human Development’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, was established as a collaborative program in 2002 between the university and SAISD. In 2013, the program received the inaugural UCEA Exemplary Educational Leadership Preparation Program Award. To date, the USLC has graduated more than 115 students, some of which have gone on to earn their doctoral degrees in education.

“This expansion is really an exciting opportunity to share what we think has worked really well for the last 14 years with SAISD,” said Garza. “This program is about social justice. It’s about equity. It’s about fairness. It’s a family, really.”

For more information about the USLC, contact Dr. Encarnacion Garza, Jr. at

Photo: Graduates from previous USLC cohorts gathered to celebrate the program's UCEA award in May of 2014

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