Kim Bennett did not want to take on an administrative role without preparing to navigate the choppy waters that sometimes come with the territory.
“I had been a special education teacher for several years and had gotten into some leadership roles at my school,” she said. “I started questioning, at times, whether the decisions being made at the administrative level were the right ones.
“I decided I would take a class or two to understand more about the decision-making process at that level. The more classes I took, the more interested I became. So, I decided to go for my master’s degree and transition into being an administrator.”
Bennett graduated from the hybrid Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership program at the University of Southern Maine (USM) in 2011. She is in her ninth year as an assistant principal at South Portland High School.
“The majority of the professors at USM had experience in educational leadership,” she said. “It felt like they had been in the trenches and knew how to do it, so you were learning from people who understood what was going on.”
Bennett is not afraid of a challenge. She is also an avid kayaker who has written a guidebook, Paddling Southern Maine. But her introduction to kayaking was not as exciting: When her mom suggested she try kayaking for the first time, she was less than enthusiastic.
“When I was in college, she called me up one day and said, ‘I got a kayak. You’re coming with me.’ I said, ‘I don’t think so. I don’t want to do that,'” she said. “I tried it and fell in love with it. I’ve been doing it avidly ever since.”
Bennett grew up in Lincoln, Maine, and knew the career path she wanted to take even as a second-grader.
“I was paired up with a boy with Down syndrome,” she said. “My teacher asked me if I would help tutor him when I finished my work. I liked it and went home and told my mom, ‘I am going to help kids like this forever.'”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Maine at Farmington in 1997, Bennett embarked on her career as a teacher and thrived in the role before moving on to administration.
“The degree definitely opened up opportunities for me,” she said. “The networking component has been great. The degree led me to the job, and the job has created opportunities like going to conferences.”
Even though Bennett took mostly in-person courses in the MSEd in Educational Leadership online program at USM, she earned a degree while working full time and still having time to indulge in kayaking.
“There was a lot of flexibility,” she said. “I was also able to make connections to other people who were becoming administrators. I still stay in touch with some of those people, which is a nice connection to have.”
Nine years after graduating from the program, Bennett still uses the information that she learned in her administrative role.
“The Organizational Behavior class [EDU 671] was helpful in looking at how my school was working at the time,” she said. “With the program, you had to create something that would change your school and put it into place. I learned how to implement a program successfully.
“In the Introduction to Educational Leadership course [EDU 670], the professor gave us different scenarios. We talked about how to work with different staff members in different ways.”
Going With the Flow
Bennett is the first person in her immediate family to earn a master’s degree. She celebrated her big accomplishment by walking in the commencement ceremony at USM.
“It was cool because it was the people you experienced the program with at the same time,” she said. “It was nice to celebrate together. My sister and I were the first generation in our family to go to college, so my family was pretty excited and proud of me.”
With nine years of experience as an assistant principal under her belt, Bennett is still keeping her career options open.
“I am toying with the idea of doing a principalship,” she said. “I try to balance my life. In addition to kayaking, I do some photography. I am not sure yet what I want to be when I grow up.”
Bennett has a few takeaways to share since graduating from the program, including the best way to navigate the learning experience.
“Take time with the work and make it valuable for you and what you are interested in doing,” she said. “Choose projects and topics that will challenge you. We all get out of our comfort zone a little bit. I got good value out of the program.”
Learn more about USM’s online MSEd in Educational Leadership program.