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Educational Leadership Program celebrates milestone, honors founder Robert Heichberger

Robert Heichberger
Dr. Robert Heichberger, shown here with the ceremonial mace in the foreground, enjoys SUNY Fredonia’s 2009 Commencement from his seat on the Steele Hall dais.

As anniversaries go, 10 is seldom heralded a milestone.

But it was for the College of Education, which marked 10 years since it reinstituted its Educational Leadership Program, which trains teachers to become principals and other educational leaders.

Alumni gathered during Homecoming for a reception to celebrate the milestone and honor Dr. Robert Heichberger, whose distinguished career at SUNY Fredonia spans five decades and includes founding the original Educational Administration / Supervision Program in 1976. Over 100 graduates gathered, a testament to the program’s value as well as the admiration for Heichberger. In fact, two members of his inaugural class, Dr. Estelle Crino and Martha Christian, attended along with current candidates and former professors and administrators.

An executive assistant to SUNY Fredonia President Dallas Beal, Heichberger was uniquely qualified to launch the program, Fredonia’s first Certificate of Advanced Studies. Not only did he have experience as a teacher and principal in East Aurora, N.Y., beginning in 1951, and extensive instructional and administrative service on campus, he had strong ties to local schools.

“He was a person who could balance a big vision with attention to detail, so he really designed a program to answer a need and really understood the larger vision,” said Janeil Rey, visiting assistant professor and a former student of Heichberger. “He was able to register a program with the state and have it accepted without any modification. And that’s unusual.

“There is a lot of research in the field that points to the importance of school principals in student achievement. This program was a response to a need expressed by superintendents for a rigorous, local program to prepare principals,” Rey added.

Over 300 educators have completed the program, including 125 who hold leadership positions across Western New York and beyond, said Charles Stoddart, program coordinator.

Heichberger possessed a unique ability to easily bond with students. “As I walked into a class 20 years ago, I did not realize that I was making a lifelong friend. That class had 50 people, but after a couple classes, Bob knew me, and when I finished with the requirements, he did all the formal things that you expect from a college professor, such as writing recommendations,” Rey explained. “But he also did informal things, such as calling me and mentioning school districts that might be a good fit for me. And he took the extra step of calling people in that school district and say, ‘why don’t you look at this candidate.’”

The program was halted in the early 1990s, but restored in 1999 in response to the migration of principals without Chautauqua County ties to other regions of the U.S. Far too few local teachers were certified as principals during the hiatus.

At the reception, Heichberger recognized widows of three former Fredonia presidents, Esther Lanford, Margaret MacVittie and Kris Beal, who attended. He extended praise to their husbands as well as to current President Dennis Hefner, for visionary leadership and steadfast support. President Hefner proudly reported to the roomful of administrators that his father, too, was a principal.

Heichberger and his family have also established the Heichberger Family and Scholars of Leadership Endowment Fund to connect the past with the present as the program builds a strong future. The fund will provide resources to enhance school leader preparation and enable the College of Education to host national speakers and conferences to support alumni and others. Fund founders also include Suzette Benson, Dr. Michael Jabot and Drs. Rey, Stoddart and Crino.

 

posted @ Friday, January 22, 2010 4:05 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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