Dawn Callahan took the reins as the middle school division head of the French-American School of New York in 2022, the same year she graduated from the School Leadership program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Callahan had already climbed the ranks from French teacher to French, English language learner and special educator to director of learning services, working in both public and private schools in Franklin, TN, with a master’s degree under her belt.
But it wasn’t until she earned the post-master’s School Leadership certificate at UTC that she made the leap to principal…and doubled her salary.
“The UTC program really prepared me to lead a school. I gained very specific knowledge that I didn’t get with my master’s degree—everything from auditing school buildings for safety to going into classrooms to assess and evaluate teachers,” said Callahan, originally from Montreal, Canada.
“I feel like I really got my money’s worth at UTC.”
Callahan preferred working in independent schools but had hit a professional wall in her career when she chose UTC.
“I had had a lot of experience in independent schools but always got bypassed for promotions. They said they didn’t see me in senior leadership,” she said.
Like most great leaders, she didn’t let naysayers rule her destiny.
Choosing the licensure track in the UTC program was also a leap of faith, she said.
That’s because while Callahan aimed to stay in the private sector, UTC’s program aligns with Tennessee’s public education system. It also requires graduates to earn the state principal license as part of completing the program.
The risk paid off and once she got into the program, “I knew I could easily get an assistant division head or division head position,” Callahan said.
“I needed a catalyst and the confidence to do it, and that’s what UTC also gave me,” Callahan said.
As middle school division head of the French-American School of New York, Callahan has gained the trust of faculty, students and parents and has been able to act quickly on several fronts—from safety to HR to curriculum development.
It hasn’t been a cakewalk, especially as a newcomer at a school accredited by the French Ministry of Education in a bustling New York City suburb.
“But I’m really making a difference and I am a huge change agent, which is a big part of the UTC program,” she said.
“Social-emotional awareness, that’s the most important thing in leadership today.”