Category Archives: Achievements

Award winning educator credits her success to her time at the School of Education

A teacher leader in the Kansas City, Kansas, School District, Janita Butler Webb (M.A. ’14, B.A. ’09) was one of three speakers at the 2014 UMKC School of Education Scholar Donor Luncheon, where she spoke with gratitude of her experiences at the SOE.

255A8541Janita Butler Webb (center) with Jennifer Waddell, Ph.D., associate professor and associate director of the Institute for Urban Education, and UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton.

As a child, Webb and her younger sister constantly were involved in dramatic play, playing house or playing school, where she regularly took to the role of mother or teacher. She realizes that her experiences as a youth were significant in shaping and inspiring her to become an educator.

“I grew up in a single parent home with my mother, brother and sister,” she said. “We struggled and moved around so much that we never stayed in the same school more than a year, attending more than 10 schools in five states during our kindergarten through 12th grade years.

“I loved to be in school but saw the complete opposite in my siblings. I wanted so badly for them to have the same drive for learning that I had. I wanted to become a teacher so that I could be influential in motivating not only my siblings but all children, especially those who come from similar homes like my childhood. I know how important it is for children to not only have a teacher, but also a role model who understands their home environment and is willing to provide a path for personal exploration, discovery and growth.”

In 2004, Webb moved back to Kansas City, the city she grew up in, to live with her father and pursue her desire to teach. She enrolled at UMKC’s School of Education, which she claims was one of the best decisions of her life.

“I was honored to be a part of the first cohort of the Institute for Urban Education, in 2005,” she explained. “My parents were overjoyed to learn that their daughter, who was born with two holes in her heart, had open heart surgery at six months and wasn’t expected to live past the age of five, was awarded a full scholarship in the field of her dreams.

“The IUE scholarship lifted a heavy load of financial worries for me. It alleviated stress off my parents, who otherwise would not be able to financially support me. It allowed me to live on campus, rather than having to commute back and forth from Independence, Mo., every day. In other words, the scholarship allowed me to fully embrace my college experience and become active on campus and in the community.”

Having the opportunity to progress through classes with the same group of students in the IUE made her experience stronger. “We developed relationships with one another that will last a lifetime,” she said. “We studied together and became comfortable challenging each other’s philosophy and beliefs about education.”

Webb’s experience in the IUE also challenged her to be reflective in her practice as a culturally responsive educator and a change agent for students. She credits her time in the program with achieving Teacher of the Year at Dobbs Elementary School (Kansas City, Mo.) and an Outstanding Beginning Teacher of the Year by the Missouri Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, both in 2011.

“The connection and relationship that I have with the School of Education and the IUE provided me with professional development experiences that I would otherwise not have had in my own district which, in turn, inspired me to continue my education and pursue my Master’s Degree at UMKC,” Dobbs explained.

Three members of the original IUE cohort went through the master’s program together, inspired to become administrators. They took the same classes and studied together, just as they had as undergraduates, and all three passed the School Leadership Praxis Exam for principal certification this fall.

“In looking back,” Webb said, “I am grateful for the support I received as an undergraduate student. Not only did the scholarship support help me be the first person in my family to graduate from college, I am also the first to receive a master’s degree.

“William Arthur Ward once said, ‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.’ Thank you for investing in teachers who will inspire and thank you for investing in the future of Kansas City.”

Printed alumni publication debuts new name

In December the SOE changed the name of its annual printed alumni publication, Reflective Practitioner, to Currents. The name reflects movement, vitality and timely news and each issue of the newsletter will keep SOE alumni and friends informed of happenings in and around the school. The printed winter issue will be supplemented with two electronic issues throughout the year with the intent being to provide a more frequent vehicle for alumni to connect with both the university and prior classmates.

The winter issue is now also available online (choose ‘2013 Winter Currents’ under the Publications section) and covers recent gifts of note made to the SOE, upgrades to the Student Services space, a recap of the 2013 Scholar Donor luncheon, a message from the dean on the launch of the Urban Education Research Center, and highlights from the Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Child and Family Development Center birthday celebration.

If you are an alum and did not receive the most recent issue of Currents or you want to update your email address to ensure you receive this year’s electronic issues, please visit, and click on ‘Login’ to update your contact information. Your feedback is welcome.

SOE alumnus featured on billboards

Billboards around the metro are touting the faces of some of Kansas City’s most outstanding leaders. The showcased leaders come from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, but they all have something in common: they’re all UMKC alumni and they’re all making a big impact on this community.

The first set of billboards feature six UMKC graduates who successfully put their degrees to work in the Kansas City metro. Another set of six graduates will be featured in early October.

It’s all part of the UMKC Proud campaign and the first set of featured leaders include SOE alumnus Joe Seabrooks.

Dr.-Seabrooks-2-214x300Seabrooks (’95 M.A., ’96 Ed.S., ’01 Ph.D.) earned all his degrees at UMKC. He is the president of the Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley. About his time at UMKC, Seabrooks said, “As a student, UMKC provided me with the safe space and place to think critically about the world we live in.  As a professional, I learned how to lead and to be accountable.  I am forever grateful to the faculty, administrators, staff and students—past and present—who played a role in my growth and development as a professional and as a person.”

Genesis student wins essay contest

The school year started off with a bang for Jada Robinson, a fourth-grader at Genesis Promise Academy in Kansas City, Mo. The United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced last month that Jada, 9, had won the prestigious, nationwide Arthur Ashe Essay Contest presented annually by USTA. She was one of ten awardees from 1,800 entries.

To enter the contest, children were asked to write an essay of 350 words or less, responding to a specific question around tennis legend Arthur Ashe and his accomplishments. This year’s question was: “If you could follow in Arthur Ashe’s footsteps and ‘give back’ to tennis, what would you do to give back to the game and how would it impact others?”

jada robinson picJada wrote, “Tennis is my favorite sport and I will work just as hard as Arthur Ashe and train great tennis players.  The coaches would teach the youth never to back down and never give up on your dream of becoming a great tennis pro.”

In late August, Jada and her mother flew to New York to accept the award and enjoyed a whirlwind weekend that included dining with former Mayor David Dinkins, attending a Broadway play, going to a Mets baseball game, and being mentored by a NCAA Division 1 tennis player. Jada also played tennis at the National Tennis Center, where the U.S. Open is held, and had lunch in the prestigious President’s Box.

“I’ve never been on an airplane,” Jada said before her trip.  “And I’ve never been to New York,” Jada continued. “I’m going to take a camera and just take pictures everywhere I go. And my tennis racquet too.”

She lives with her mother, four sisters and a brother near Genesis, a charter school at 3800 E. 44th St. that is sponsored by the UMKC School of Education.

Just a year ago, Jada had never even heard of the tennis legend Ashe, let alone played on a tennis court herself. But thanks to a unique tennis program at Genesis through USTA called the National Junior Tennis and Learning program, Jada not only learned about Ashe and wrote an award-winning essay, but she also joined the school’s first tennis team.

Now she dreams of becoming a professional tennis player herself.

Regina Craddolph, librarian at Genesis, directed Jada and her classmates in the study of Ashe in the library each week and taught them how to write their essays.  She cites Jada’s ready willingness to laugh and says, “Jada’s presence has been a large contributor to her class, tennis team and the school culture.  We have no doubt that Jada will become a great tennis pro like Ashe.”

Jada’s math teacher, Donta Goodwin, adds that, “as a student, Jada strives to always do her best, no matter the circumstances.  Her ability to lead proactively coupled with her dedication to excellence has made evident her extremely bright future.”

Faculty promoted

On September 11, 35 UMKC faculty members achieved promotion or were granted tenure.  Among them were three School of Education faculty members who were so honored for their teaching, research and service.

Promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure

Carolyn BarberCarolyn Barber – Counseling and Educational Psychology.  Dr. Barber, who holds her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, has been with the SOE since 2007.  Her research considers secondary schools as a context for social and psychological development among adolescents. Specific areas of interest include the development of gifted and talented students and civic development of all adolescents.


McCartherShirleyMarieShirley Marie McCarther – Educational Leadership, Policy and Foundations.  Dr. McCarther joined the SOE faculty in 2007 and focuses her research on leadership, management and organizational development; educational administration; instructional role in educational leadership; and urban/public education.  She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati.


Promotion to Professor

Johanna NilssonJohanna E. Nilsson – Counseling and Educational Psychology.  Dr. Nilsson’s research interests include international issues and populations (e.g., international students, refugees and immigrants), supervision, and social justice advocacy.  With a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University, Nilsson joined the SOE faculty in 2006.


Congratulations to each of these individuals for a job well done!  Our faculty has been and continues to be an enviable strength for the School, our students, and the UMKC campus.

Alumnus success story highlights role of college in civil rights progress

Dr.-Seabrooks-2-214x300While Joseph Seabrooks (’95 M.A., ’96 Ed.S., ’01 Ph.D.), president of MCC-Penn Valley, believes college can open new doors to better futures, he’s concerned that young people “don’t know how to function” in the real world. Read some of his thoughts in “College to fuel future civil rights progress,” by Kansas City Star columnist Lewis W. Diuguid.


Prendergast chosen by DESE to review Missouri preschool curriculum

PrendergastPollyPolly Prendergast, director of the The Edgar L. and Rheta A. Berkley Child and Family Development Center on the UMKC campus, this summer was chosen by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to be among the reviewers of Missouri preschool curriculum.  Evaluators are asked to use the Missouri Early Childhood Curriculum Rubric to score each curriculum in the areas of valid research, evaluations results, professional development, and developmentally appropriateness.

DESE selects review team members who have a variety of early childhood experiences, including teachers and administrators; and those who have provided training to early childhood professionals, taught emerging educators in higher education or worked in curriculum development, training, and implementation.  Team members may be asked to help with one or numerous reviews.

In addition to her role at Berkley, Prendergast currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Children’s Therapeutic Learning Center (TLC), was elected to the UMKC Staff Council in 2012 and is a past president for The Mid-America Association for the Education of Young Children.  Prendergast also serves as adjunct faculty for UMKC, Park University and Johnson County Community College.  She has been director of Berkley since 2003.