Leadership That’s Home Grown

Pictured Above: Dr. Letitia S. Payne, second from right, poses with her parents and Dr. Renee Gargano, program developer for the Center for Educational Leadership at PNW BOCES, after successfully defending her doctoral dissertation at Manhattanville College.

As a 15-year-old student at Walter Panas High School, Dr. Letitia S. Payne had no way of knowing that a talk she was invited to attend would shape her future, propelling her into the field of education and leading her to earn a doctorate from Manhattanville College.

Dr. Payne, who is Black, was tapped for the talk by a newly formed group called “Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers,” offered by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES as a way of promoting students of color to consider the teaching profession.

At the time, Dr. Payne said, she was thinking about becoming a school psychologist but the program helped her to see teaching as her calling. The program, which was later spun off from BOCES, allowed students to observe teachers in classrooms, tutor students in their district, conduct mock interviews with superintendents and work with mentors in high school and college.

Manhattanville offered 50 percent scholarships to students who came through the program, a perk that the college extended for Dr. Payne’s master’s degree.

“I think this program provided opportunities for students of color to see themselves in front of a classroom. It allowed both men and women of color to see that they could have a place in education as role models to students,” she said.

Dr. Payne, who has taught in the Ossining Union Free School District for 16 years, said Ossining has hired many teachers who came up through Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers. Dr. Payne holds a master’s degree in English Secondary Education as well as in Special Education from Manhattanville and a master’s degree in Literacy from Walden University.

In addition to teaching at Ossining’s Anne M. Dorner Middle School, Dr. Payne serves as the chairperson of the Response to Intervention meetings at the middle school and runs a group for African American and Latina girls that promotes sisterhood.

Dr. Payne, who holds state certification as a school building leader and school district leader, said she was surprised when she decided to pursue a doctorate that her interviewer was Dr. Renee Gargano, who had launched her on the path to teaching years earlier through Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers.

Manhattanville’s doctoral program in Educational Leadership is offered in partnership with BOCES’ Center for Educational Leadership. Designed for mid-career professionals with some leadership experience, it offers flexible scheduling and the opportunity to attend some classes at BOCES and others at the Manhattanville campus. The other unique thing about the program is that students enter in cohorts who complete the course of study together.

“The cohort model that was created allowed us to not feel alone in the journey. We really became like family. We could rely on each other and have a support system,” she said.

Having successfully defended her dissertation recently on “Evaluating The Effect of Response to Intervention Implementation in Middle School Settings within the Hudson Valley and Long Island Regions of New York,” Dr. Payne said now “the sky’s the limit” in what she could do next, although for now she has high praise for the Ossining district and enjoys the work she does there enormously.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Payne’s parents were on hand for her meeting to defend her dissertation. “My mom has read my dissertation. She was my editor-in-chief,” Dr. Payne said. “My parents were my first teachers. They instilled the importance of education and hard work early on and saw the teacher in me before I saw it in myself.”

She also praised Gargano, former deputy superintendent at BOCES and founder and program developer for the Center for Educational Leadership, as an unfailing cheerleader. “She has been at every important educational milestone and celebration along the way, and has always been there to support me on this journey,” Dr. Payne said.

“If it hadn’t been for Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers and for the partnership between BOCES and Manhattanville and all the opportunities I was offered, I don’t know if I would be at this point. I am truly grateful for it all,” she said.