Jennifer Solak, a remedial supervisor for an intermediate school in Pittsburgh, PA.

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer Solak, School Principal Certificate Program

Jennifer graduate from Point Park University with her School Principal Certificate and currently works as remedial supervisor for an intermediate school in Pittsburgh, PA. After more than a decade as a reading specialist and now in her fifth year as a remedial supervisor, we asked Jennifer to tell us about her experience at Point Park University. Hear what she had to say below!

Why did you want to work in education? What inspired you?

Like many college students, I did not know what I wanted to do in the future when I started. I spent my freshman year taking required courses and at the end of the year, my academic advisor suggested that in my sophomore year I focus on taking classes I enjoyed. I had never truly thought about what I enjoyed or was passionate about until then. I started taking many English classes and my advisor steered me towards education classes because I loved working with people.

I was very unsure at the time. I didn’t love high school and the thought of being in school for the rest of my life was definitely not appealing. For my undergraduate degree, a requirement of every education course was an internship in a local school. It was a true learn-by-doing model.

My first class I had an internship at Washington High School, where I taught Junior Achievement, with a partner, first period on Fridays to seniors. If that isn’t a trial by fire I am not sure what is. To my surprise, I absolutely loved the experience. It was challenging, I definitely had moments where I questioned what I was doing, but I finally felt like I fit somewhere. I loved working with students and teachers and found myself thinking of new ways of presenting the curriculum each week. From that point on, I knew I had found my path and never looked back.

Why did you pick Point Park University for your principal certification program?

I chose Point Park University after doing research into many programs. What appealed to me the most was the ability to be 100% online. As a busy working educator, mother of a five-year-old, and wife, I knew I did not have the ability to commit to going to in-person classes and that I needed flexibility of when I worked on assignments. I loved being able to work on my school work wherever and whenever I could in my schedule, which for me meant early mornings on the weekends, after bedtime with my daughter, and in between family activities during the week.

What skills did you gain or sharpen through your program at Point Park University and how do you use them today?

The program helped make me a much more strategic and well-thought-out decision maker. The program offered many opportunities to think through, plan, and make decisions from the role of a principal. In making those decisions I had to make sure I had all of the information necessary, which made me think of the questions I would have to ask others and also ask myself to aid in making a decision. The message boards that were a vital part of the courses allowed for me to engage with a diverse group of educators to talk through scenarios and information. The process for making decisions I was able to develop will be one I use throughout my career.

How has your certification impacted you in terms of your current position or a position you would like to attain in the future?

Gaining my certification definitely helped me in my current position as the Remedial Supervisor at the Pittsburgh Mt. Oliver Intermediate Unit 2. I think in education we get very laser-focused on what we are responsible for and get very good at what our specific job asks of us. In the principal program, I had to think about the bigger picture of budgets, staffing, parents, students, the community, and all of the other factors that impact these stakeholder groups.

Seeing the bigger picture of our organization at the Intermediate Unit, I am able to better address all aspects of my role in which I work with school administrators, teachers, other Intermediate Unit staff, and parents to make sure we, as an organization, are providing paramount support to the schools we service.

What was a challenge you faced during your school principal certification program, and who or what helped you overcome it?

A very personal challenge that I went through during the program was the illness of my father, who we lost in March of 2018 to cancer. I was in the final part of my practicum at the time and he was in and out of the hospital. The practicum experience is unique because your advisor is the professor for the experience. I let her know what was happening and that I was concerned that I was not going to be able to complete the work for the class. I was so overwhelmed and was frequently at the hospital or helping my mom.

She asked if she could call me. It is something I will never forget, because it was a Sunday afternoon and I was in a visitors lounge at the hospital. She was extremely supportive of my situation, helped me come up with a clear plan for finishing everything, and also said to take care of my family first. The option of taking an incomplete was discussed, but she assured me she would do everything to help me complete the program on time. She checked in with me frequently during those weeks to see how I was doing personally and as a student. Her support, kindness, and reassurance truly helped me complete the program.

What was the biggest takeaway from your school principal program?

The biggest takeaway was that being a principal is difficult; you are never going to please everyone, but if you use the skills that you have developed, your experience in education, and think about all stakeholders, you will be successful.

It was reassuring when professors in the program talked openly about their own experiences and how mistakes helped them grow through the learning they experienced in those situations. I have always believed that embracing the never-ending learning process as an educator is the greatest way to be successful and felt this was confirmed through the program.

What would you tell (or what advice would you give) prospective students considering the school principal program at Point Park University?

I would tell prospective students that the program is challenging, but you are able to apply everything you learn in any role in education. This program will make you think more deeply about your craft, and you will be thankful for the program in the end because it will make you better.

If you are worried about the time commitment, you can do it! You are an educator! Educators know how to create a schedule better than anyone. I also would encourage them to reach out to the professors and other students in the cohort often and beyond the message boards. One thing I was worried with an online program was the lack of collegial interaction. I found that by reaching out and asking for input and support when I needed it, I was able think about things in different ways because of the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and roles of fellow students.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to thank the professors I had in the School Principal Certification program. The professors I had were amazing, highly qualified, and very willing to support students who are working and trying to balance everything in our crazy hectic lives.