Alum Beth Schiavino-Narvaez Shows Her Leadership and Humanitarian Interests
by Joe Savrock (September 2008)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Prior to its spring 1994 commencement ceremonies, the Penn State College of Education selected a student marshal who displayed a high leadership potential. Indeed, in the 14 years since graduating from Penn State, Beth Schiavino-Narvaez is fulfilling that potential.
Beth has accomplished plenty—she has earned a Fulbright scholarship, volunteered in the Peace Corps, obtained her master’s degree, served as a school principal, and started a family.
And she’s not finished. Beth is currently pursuing an Ed.D. in the Urban Superintendents program at Harvard. “My goal is to become a superintendent,” she exclaims, demonstrating a burning desire to grow even further into a career in academic administration.
Beth’s great potential was obvious in the early 1990s, when she was an undergrad in Penn State’s Elementary Education program and a member of the Schreyer Honors College. She was known then simply as Beth Schiavino—long before she met her husband, Eric Naraez. Beth displayed a heartfelt dedication to the education field, and her academic accomplishments made her an easy choice to be the College of Education’s spring 1994 student marshal.
“I really learned to think deeply and write while at Penn State,” she says. “I obtained a strong understanding of constructivist and workshop models of instruction, which still inform my understanding of what teaching and learning should look like.”
Beth won a Fulbright scholarship to teach in Korea, which she began soon after graduating. She was assigned to teach English as a Foreign Language at a public girls high school on Cheju Island.
During her two-year stay in Korea, Beth lived with a host family. “For me, this experience was much more about learning than teaching,” she noted. “I learned so much being immersed in a culture so different from where I grew up. I learned quite a bit of Korean in my two years, as well.”
After finishing her Fulbright, Beth returned to Pennsylvania and taught 5th and 7th grades in Allentown, Pa., for three years. She and her husband Eric married in May 1999.
Then, from 1999 to 2001, Beth and Eric both served in the Peace Corps in the Republic of Kiribati, a small island nation on the Pacific Rim. Eric worked on community health issues, while Beth taught and designed professional development in an elementary school. “That was when I realized I wanted to pursue educational leadership,” says Beth.
“When I was in the Peace Corps, I had to think about sustainability,” continued Beth. “You are there for only two years, so it is imperative that you tap the strengths of the people that you work with so that they can carry on the work once you are gone. This was when I solidified my belief in the power of teacher leadership.”
When the couple returned from Kiribati, Beth started her master’s degree work in school leadership at the Harvard School of Education. Shortly after earning her degree in 2003, she became an elementary school principal in Pittsfield, Mass., in a small urban district located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Later, the district’s superintendent recognized Beth’s great leadership skills and asked her to take over a similar position at one of the district’s struggling middle schools.
The school was under watch by the state for poor academic performance and was generally known as a rather disorganized place. When Beth arrived, she implemented processes that turned around the school’s academic performance. The school began achieving its Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Says Beth, “We constantly asked ourselves: What exactly do our students need to know and be able to do? Then we implemented a system of formative assessments so that we could tell whether or not students learned what we expected them to.”
Beth worked as a principal for five years. “I absolutely loved being a principal,” she says. “I pride myself on being an instructional leader. I was in classrooms every day, observing what students were learning and then talking with teachers about instruction that will continuously move learners forward.”
Earlier this year, Beth left her position to pursue a doctorate degree in the Urban Superintendents program at Harvard. The Harvard application process was competitive—only six candidates were accepted to the program. “This is an intense program—we must complete all of our doctoral coursework in one year,” she says. “Then we are placed with an urban superintendent for a six-month internship.”
Last November, Beth and Eric adopted a baby girl from Korea. “Sophie is now 17 months old and the center of our world,” exclaims Beth. “Being a mom has deepened my work as an educator, because I can now bring a parent’s perspective to the work. Now I can truly base all my decisions on my answer to this question: Is this what I would want for my own child?”