The University of Miami Global Academy’s newest graduating seniors are not the only ones who have something to celebrate.
Maria Elana Chelala, an alumna of UM’s School of Education and Human Development, was named UMGA’s new head of school, succeeding Craig Wilson, who made the announcement at the academy’s 2015 graduation ceremony, held last Friday in the Newman Alumni Center.
Wilson, who was UMGA’s founding head of school, will continue to play an active role in the academy as associate dean of strategy and innovation at the University’s Division of Continuing and International Education.
Founded six years ago, UMGA is an accredited online college preparatory school that vigorously prepares talented and motivated students in grades 6-12 for college and service to the global community. As a benchmark, UMGA graduates have been accepted to top universities in the country, including UM, Harvard, Cornell, NYU, Northwestern, and Penn State.
“I am delighted to have such a capable successor in Dr. Chelala,” said Wilson. “I am fully confident that she will lead the school through the next chapter of academic excellence.”
Chelala received her Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Miami and a Master of Science in Education and Doctor of Education from Nova Southeastern University. Her 30-year career spans roles as a K-12 teacher, principal, Head Start agency administrator, professor, and school developer.
In 1988 Chelala’s dual major in foreign languages led her to become involved in a Florida Language in the Elementary School (FLES) pilot program initiated at the University of Florida and implemented at Alachua County Public Schools K-6. Two years later, she obtained a Master of Science in Elementary Education and Early Childhood at Nova Southeastern University with a practicum on second language acquisition and the role of placement testing and student achievement.
Her child advocacy efforts and leadership expanded to engage in statewide projects sponsored by organizations such as the World Children’s Day Foundation and the Holy Childhood Association. These roles accentuated her ability to make significant contributions on leadership panels at Miami Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) Management Board Selection Policy Reviews, Division of Schools of Choice, and other elementary schools within MDCPS.
In 1996 she helped launch the National Geographic Kids Network to service students in a self-contained full-time gifted program, and later became one of their national motivational program trainers.
Simultaneously, as an adjunct instructor, Chelala also served as principal of schools, continuing with her specialist graduate degree work in educational leadership and in 2001 the completion of her doctoral studies in school development. The outcome of the knowledge gained resulted in successfully raising funds to build, plan, and develop two schools in the Archdiocese of Miami.
In 1992, Chelala received a grant by the Riordan Foundation to establish the IBM Writing to Read Program and successfully implemented the program at a South Miami school. This was followed by a million-dollar school-wide project designed to wire and automate the school that became a model for other Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Miami in the mid 90s.
In 2008, she obtained training certification from Stanford University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) that enabled her to implement EPGY methods in South Florida.
Chelala has taught online courses as an adjunct professor for the Department of Early Childhood Education at Nova Southeastern University since 2012. As director of a VPK Head Start Agency Program in 2013, Chelala obtained VPK Advanced Director Credential Certification and pursued virtual online teaching for early childhood center directors and prospective candidates. This set the path to additional online administrative roles as a Florida Virtual Schools site administrator in local private schools and as an independent consultant specializing in staff development.
At the forefront of Chelala’s priorities is to uphold UMGA’s exceptional educational and student success standards while initiating experiential learning, professional growth, and program expansion opportunities. “I return to my alma mater eager to infuse new dimensions of 21st century learning to this premier online platform,” she said.