Former middle school coach Sean McAninley came up with a great game plan for graduating from the Master of Arts in Educational Leadership online program at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.
"I told my adviser, Dr. Kevin Badgett, I wanted to finish by May 2019 so I could apply for a job for the 2019-20 school year," he said. "I interviewed for an assistant principal job four days after graduation. Ten days after that, I found out I got the job. I got done just in time and everything worked out."
McAninley, a Philadelphia native, is embarking on his first leadership position at Charles Haskell Elementary School in Edmond, Oklahoma. While he was completing the online master's degree program, he and his wife, Shanti, had their first child, Lyla.
"I took two classes [each] in three different semesters," he said. "Two of them were in Summer 2018. The other one was our Fall B session, which happened to be after my daughter was born. That was an exciting seven weeks."
McAninley moved to Oklahoma with his wife because she landed a government job, and about a year later he enrolled in the online MA in Educational Leadership program.
"I always wanted to pursue a master's degree, but everything was accelerated when I took the pay cut moving from Philadelphia," he said. "I worked in hospitality for years, and I was in management."
The online format helped McAninley balance teaching math and coaching baseball and football at Summit Middle School.
"Online seemed like the only way it could fit into my schedule," he said. "I loved the flexibility. It's the only way I could have completed the program."
Right off the bat, EDLD 6365: School Public Relations assured McAninley he had made the right decision about his future.
"That first course gave me a lot of confidence and showed me a different aspect of education," he said. "I felt the strength that I had in moving into administration. It got me going."
Although McAninley grew up with a passion for music, he knew that he would not make it his career. Instead, he was inspired by Bruce Seidel, his 11th-grade chemistry teacher.
"He seemed to love his job, be pretty simple in what he needed and supported his family," he said. "He was a pretty happy all-around guy, so he was the reason I went into teaching. I went back and visited him this summer."
McAninley graduated from Temple University with a bachelor's degree in elementary and special education in May 2011. He spent a total of 10 years working in the hospitality industry before fully committing to teaching.
"After my first year here, I was going back and forth on whether education was something I wanted to stick with because of the financial hit we took," he said. "I knew what we had to do. My wife was very supportive and said, 'We'll make it work for a couple of years while you pursue this degree.'"
As soon as McAninley was given the coaching opportunity, he enrolled at UTPB and completed the program in two years.
"When I started looking at online programs, UTPB came up on a lot of top-10 lists, so I looked into it," he said. "The price seemed like a good fit. Since Texas neighbors Oklahoma geographically, I thought, 'Hopefully, I am dealing with some similar demographics who understand where I am coming from.'"
Plus, Shanti graduated with a bachelor's degree from UT Dallas and assured him that the UT system was a good way to go.
"Not to mention, she turned me into a Longhorns fan," McAninley said. "Now, I can officially say I am part of the UT system. I still haven't been to campus [in Austin], but I would love to make it down there one weekend."
McAninley believes earning a master's degree at UTPB helped him land the assistant principal job in more ways than one.
"It had the combination of the hours I needed, and the two principals I worked with during my degree program put me on committees and connected me with people in the district," he said. "When I went into my interview, the director of elementary education for the district was pretty familiar with me.
"He told me I was the last interview. I said, 'Well, I hope I don't let you down.' He said, 'Me, neither.' He was hoping for a good interview from me. Throughout this coursework, I made a good name for myself with the right people."
While McAninley gets going in leadership, he hopes to continue growing his career and his family. He still loves music. He and Shanti both play guitar, while she also plays the violin and sings.
"We are bringing our daughter along with music," he said. "I want to definitely become a principal or maybe a superintendent. Our district is the third biggest in Oklahoma. Maybe I will do that down the road a little bit when the kids are growing up. It's in the back of my mind. I am officially retired from hospitality."
McAninley credits a strong support system with helping him work through the program while teaching, coaching and starting a family.
"My parents are really happy," he said. "My wife has been my biggest supporter. She works a lot of hours, so it's a sacrifice of our time, as well, doing the extra coursework. My friends and family were excited I was able to do this."
He had such a positive experience at UTPB that he has recommended the master's degree program to several of his fellow educators.
"I have a colleague I worked with a couple of years ago who is in the program and finishing up now," McAninley said. "I recommended it to her. If you're a full-time employee, it works with your schedule. If you put the effort in, you're going to get the results."
And this Philadelphia native is more than happy to have a degree from deep in the heart of Texas.
"The professors at UTPB are great," McAninley said. "Seven weeks is quick. You are doing an assignment a week. But if you put the effort in, the professors are there to support you. It's going to get you places. I am proof."Learn about the UTPB online MA in Educational Leadership program.
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