After Kimberly Northcutt went from sculpting bodies to molding minds, her true calling took shape. Northcutt was a personal trainer when she and her husband, Jesse Suarez, decided to start a family.
“I wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree to become a physical therapist,” Northcutt said. “Something told me to have a ‘Plan B.’ My focus shifted. I became a teacher and really enjoyed it.”
Twelve years later, Northcutt is a math and science instructional specialist at Hackberry Elementary School in Little Elm, Texas. She has two children, London (9) and Aiden Suarez (5), and graduated with a Master of Education in Educational Administration from the Lamar University online program in December 2018.
Northcutt started a master’s degree program at another university when her son was a newborn. Being a first-time mom and trying to pay tuition out of pocket led her to put graduate school on hold. But the stars aligned for her when a Lamar University representative visited the Hackberry Elementary School campus.
“They offered the first two courses discounted, which helped a lot,” Northcutt said. “The overall price of the program at Lamar University also fit my budget. I knew I could do it and pay for it. That’s why I went ahead and did it.”
Stephen Richardson, who is now principal at Hackberry Elementary, also has a master’s degree from Lamar University and encouraged Northcutt to become a Cardinal.
“He is a big advocate for higher degrees and self-learning,” she said. “My intention was to become educated so I could pursue a higher position, whether it’s in the school district or for a company where I’m doing adult training. I need to have those leadership skills to become an assistant principal or a principal.”
With a full-time job, two kids and a husband who coaches for Major League Soccer team FC Dallas, Northcutt needed the flexibility of the online format to be able to add school to her life.
“I loved how the courses were laid out so you were able to see what you needed to do and had a time frame that should be done by Sunday,” she said. “I also liked that the time frame was the same for every class. It wasn’t, ‘This professor wants it on Tuesday, when I’m used to having it on Thursday.’
“Especially when you have a family, you have to make sure you are adjusting. Your husband might need you to go do something, but you need to do something else. It was nice you’re not hit with surprises. The program was very manageable.”
Working on less complicated tasks or assignments early in the week before focusing on the larger ones allowed Northcutt to maximize quality time with her loved ones.
“Sunday is my family’s day to relax, go to church and do low-key things,” she said. “I was able to put all of those notes together and make that last assignment or last big project so much easier. I really liked that.
“I also liked the professors being flexible with family situations and illnesses. You could email them and they were very understanding. That was very nice. We’re adults here, and that’s what happens in adult life.”
Northcutt learned the most from the EDLD 5344: School Law course, which was her favorite in the online M.Ed. in Educational Administration program.
“That class opens up a different perspective on things where you’re able to understand,” she said. “You almost want to be a leader and follow them because it makes your life easier. There’s a reason behind it. Someone didn’t just pull it out of a book. I loved that class because I learned a lot.”
The online M.Ed. in Educational Administration program gave Northcutt a well-rounded look at educational leadership.
“Everything aligned perfectly with what happens in my district,” she said. “It wasn’t just what my idea of a principal was when I started teaching — ‘Oh, that’s just a manager.’ It homed in on how we view our administrators and that they need to be instructionally active and not just be able to manage people. It was spot on.”
Northcutt, who grew up in Dallas and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology with a minor in medical biology from the University of North Texas in 2005, believes the master’s program thoroughly prepared her to transition into a leadership role.
“For me, it was learning to actually embrace and understand how to be a leader and not just manage people and be someone who can be a leader and run a school for students who rely on us,” she said. “As an administrator and a leader, you have to be able to understand every role. That means instructional lead, curriculum and data. I loved how that played a part in every class.”
The program also affirmed the overall focus of any educator at any level — students.
“The program really builds your leadership skills,” she said. “It makes an impact on people’s lives. At the end of the day, it was what is best for the student? What impacts them? How are we going to grow you to cause this domino effect that eventually leads to student achievement? Every class gave me some insight on something new.”
The biggest key to success in the education administration master’s program for Northcutt was time management. Her ultimate career goal is working with curriculum at the district level.
“It’s important to pace yourself and not overwhelm yourself,” she said. “Use your background knowledge and what you already know and what makes sense coming from the classroom and being a teacher.”
Northcutt completed the master’s degree experience when she and her family made the trip to Beaumont for graduation day to celebrate the accomplishment.
“Everyone was excited,” she said. “It was a big deal. My whole family came down for graduation. My kids got to see mommy work hard, persevere and graduate. I would recommend it. Now, there are more teachers in Little Elm going through the Lamar University program.”
Learn more about the Lamar University online M.Ed. in Educational Administration program.