When Hurricane Katrina bore down on Ginger Grant-Del Valle’s native New Orleans in 2005, the ensuing months of disaster and upheaval left her sure of only one thing: Life is unpredictable. So if you want something, don’t procrastinate.
She and her mother evacuated their New Orleans East home in advance of the storm, eventually winding up in Fort Worth, Texas. But her father, a registered nurse, stayed behind to help those in need. Unable to reach him by phone for days, she didn’t know whether he had lived or died in the flood waters. It was only after a news crew found him stranded at his home that she knew her entire family was safe.
“Hurricane Katrina made me realize how fragile life is,” says Grant-Del Valle, now 41 and a career educator. “One minute everything is fine, and then you can’t go back to your school because your school is demolished and your neighborhood is in shambles. The experience made me say, ‘Don’t drag your feet. If you’re going to do something, do it now.’”
But it took nearly two years for Grant-Del Valle’s life to settle down enough post-Katrina for her to make plans for her future. Immediately after the storm, the Louisiana Department of Education sent her to Shreveport to work in schools inundated with evacuees from New Orleans. Her home in New Orleans East, which flooded during the storm, had to be rebuilt.
In 2007, Grant-Del Valle began studying for her doctorate in education through University of Phoenix®. It was the culmination of a dream that began when she was 10 years old and set her mind on becoming a teacher. The dream continued as she worked as a distinguished educator in elementary schools in some of New Orleans’ most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. She was sent into schools slated for closure due to low academic performance and worked to turn them around.
As her doctoral studies dovetailed with her professional life, Grant-Del Valle saw that what she was learning through her degree program was helping her on the job. Her leadership skills improved, as did the success of the schools she was tasked with turning around. Of the eight schools she worked with during her tenure as a distinguished educator, seven improved enough to be removed from the closure list. One school received “Recognized Academic Growth” status from the Louisiana Department of Education.
“Through my coursework and collaboration with my instructors and peers, I began to delve deeper into educational leadership,” Grant-Del Valle says. “The knowledge I gained made all the difference.”
The doctoral program didn’t just teach her to become a leader, but helped her pinpoint exactly what type of leader she could be. Through intensive coursework, Grant-Del Valle discovered her strengths lie in transformational leadership.
“We learned how we can identify the changes that are needed in an organization, and get people on board and execute the changes,” she says. “This helped me help the principals in the schools I was working in.”
– Ginger Grant-Del Valle, Ed.D '10
After receiving her doctorate, Grant-Del Valle continued to work as a distinguished educator until she got married and moved to Chicago. Now she works as a master teacher for the Octavio Paz Charter School in Chicago, one of the schools in the United Charter Schools Network. Just as in Louisiana, her school had been slated for closure due to low performance. She works in a high-crime, high-poverty area where the challenges are many but the opportunities are even more plentiful.
“We started asking, ‘What is going well? What’s not going well? What are our goals, and what do we need to do to get there?’” she says. “We had to execute changes, and my degree helped me frame that.”
Grant-Del Valle helped the school put a greater emphasis on teacher development. She coached teachers to become leaders in the classroom. “One thing that I’ve learned from my coursework is that the leader is often in the rear pushing people along so that they, too, can be leaders,” she says.
In the future, Grant-Del Valle hopes to teach at the college level so she can give prospective teachers the skills and leadership training they need to give children the education they deserve. She also hopes to write children’s books. Her toddler son, Grant, is her inspiration.
For gainful employment information, please visit phoenix.edu/programs/gainful-employment.html.