‘Rising star’ crafts plot to narrow learning gap

Sometimes, all it takes is a notable quote to inspire a person to seek change, lead reform and serve the community.

For University of Florida education doctoral student Jasmine Ulmer, the life-changing words were voiced by former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige: “In the greatest, wealthiest nation the world has ever known, nearly seven out of 10 fourth-graders in big cities and rural areas cannot read. It is our greatest failure as a nation. It is our failure as a people, and we must do something about it.”

At the time, Ulmer was an undergraduate at UF studying English and classical studies. But after stumbling upon Paige’s comments, Ulmer was driven to become a reading teacher and coach.

“After reading that quote, I was inspired to enter the College of Education upon graduation to earn a master’s in reading education,” said Ulmer, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2004 and her master’s degree the following year. “But once I entered the classroom to address challenges in literacy, I became aware of a broader spectrum of challenges that face the students, teachers and leaders in our schools.”

Today, Ulmer is pursuing her Ph.D. in educational leadership at UF, and her professors peg her as a rising star in Florida education policy with a desire to improve the learning gap in schools with the help of teachers and school leaders.

Along with several years of teaching experience, she has participated in a number of education policy projects, including the Florida Department of Education’s FCAT bias review committee from 2008 to 2011. In 2009, she was selected to serve as a U.S. Department of Education teaching ambassador fellow and got the opportunity to travel, speak with education policy makers and attend conferences.

Now she co-chairs the state education department’s teacher and leader preparation implementation committee, which makes recommendations to Florida’s Race to the Top committee about standards and learning targets for state-approved teacher preparation programs.

Ulmer began her upward journey in 2005 as a teacher who took on a variety of roles, from teaching second- and seventh-grade classes to serving as an elementary science coach.

She also found time to collaborate with district, state and federal officials on issues related to advancing the teaching profession.

“As an elementary classroom teacher I could affect 18 students at a time, and as an instructional coach I could influence a thousand students at a time,” she said. “Though I love my students and miss them very much, I felt the way I could best contribute to the profession was to support my students’ teachers on a larger scale.”

Ulmer believes one way the teaching profession can be transformed is through the development of career ladders that build upon teachers’ individual talents and interests. Then, she said, schools might be able to retain more teachers and create stronger internal systems of support.

“For example, some teachers might be able to spend more time mentoring other teachers, leading professional development, designing instruction, utilizing technology, working with the community, or collaborating with researchers on projects,” Ulmer said.

Ulmer’s colleagues and professors tout her as a major player in the future of Florida education. She hopes to focus her dissertation research on how the perspectives and experiences of educators can be better incorporated into educational policy and practice decisions.

“Jasmine has just been an exceptional addition to our class of college research fellows,” said Bernard Oliver, UF program coordinator in educational administration and policy. “Her experience and involvement with Florida’s Race to the Top initiatives provide our students and faculty in educational leadership with the most current thinking about preparing leaders for Florida’s future.”

Ulmer plans to graduate with her Ph.D. in 2015 and then work in academia or for a governmental agency.

“I see myself as one of many voices contributing to a larger conversation,” Ulmer said. “I’m relatively new to the field and feel fortunate for the opportunities that I’ve had, and I hope I’m able to continue making positive contributions.”

WRITER: Alexa Lopez, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4449
MEDIA CONTACT: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education, 352-273-4137