536Mario Ruiz loves his job as a U.S. History Teacher at Donna North High School but aspires to be a principal someday.

That is why he jumped at the chance of participating in a collaborative principal preparation program between The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Donna Independent School District. Upon completion, Ruiz will be eligible to receive a Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership and principal’s certification.

“I’ve always been interested in leadership so when this opportunity came up, I went for it,” Ruiz said. “I knew it was the right decision for me to be in a cohort group with my fellow teachers from Donna ISD. I knew this was the right time and the right opportunity because eventually I would like to be a principal for an academy or a high school. Those have always been my goals.”

The program consists of a two-year rigorous curriculum designed to prepare educators to become school administrators. Ruiz and five of his colleagues — Arlene Aguirre, Lenoir Elementary School Kindergarten teacher; Mario Hernandez, Donna High School Math teacher; Sergio Garza, Donna High School Social Studies teacher; Juan Juarez, Guzman Elementary Special Education teacher; and Guadalupe Ibarra, DISD Fine Arts Director — were selected to participate in the program and make up the Donna cohort. They teamed up to work with cohorts from Weslaco and Mercedes ISDs.

533“It’s a great opportunity working with other districts,” Ruiz said. “The great part about working inside a cohort group as teachers is the support and camaraderie we build when we’re working with each other when doing assignments and analyzing data. We realize that deep down there is not much of a difference between the three districts with regards to demographics and the commitment to leadership is solid. We all want to better leaders and see our schools and communities succeed.

Ruiz said another plus about the program is that UTRGV professors travel to their school districts to teach classes instead of the other way around. “Professors rotate to conduct our classes,” Ruiz said. “This semester, they’re traveling to Weslaco. In the Summer 1 semester, they will be in Donna and in Summer 2 they will be in Mercedes. It’s great. We don’t have to deal with traffic or anything else other than go to class, meet with our cohorts and professor, and tackle our assignments.”

Ruiz admits the program is time-consuming but nothing that he cannot manage and get done. He is grateful that the administration afforded him the opportunity to attain a master degree and fulfilling his dream of becoming a principal.

“We need strong campus leaders who will encourage our teachers and provide them a nurturing environment so they can thrive and help our students succeed,” Ruiz said. “Teachers need to be able to understand the circumstances and struggles that our students deal with every day to try to attain an education. “I believe that I can provide that guidance and assistance.”