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Inspiring educators: Dynamic husband-wife duo shine in their careers

Inspiring Educators: Dynamic Husband-Wife Duo Shine in Their Careers

Husband and wife alums Lucas Hiley ‘16W (EdD) and Lisa Hiley ‘11W (PhD) may have picked different career paths in education, but they continue to work in parallel worlds today.

Lisa, an assistant professor of communication sciences & disorders at Nazareth University, recalls a moment of overlap recently when she met with students who were researching the use of technology and therapy. So she decided to do the logical thing and e-mailed her husband Lucas, a principal at Laurelton-Pardee Intermediate School in East Irondequoit, a full digital conversion school district.

“I wrote to Lucas, ‘Quickly rattle off your top 10 favorite apps or websites because I am helping my students with research that they believe may be applicable to their own clinical practices,’” says Lisa, who teaches and supervises undergraduate and graduate students preparing to become speech-language pathologists. “On some level, there’s a really interesting role in our parallel worlds and how we can kind of inform each other.” 
They first met as undergraduates in Psych 101 at Nazareth University, where they both were also involved in student government. Today, the Hileys are no strangers to embodying the Warner School’s social justice mission.

A former Rochester Hearing & Speech Center teacher working with school-age kids with language and literacy concerns, Lisa made her way to Warner’s PhD program in teaching, curriculum, and change in 2006 when she was eager to learn more about the practical applications from an academic and educational standpoint. Fast-forward to 2011, a year after Lisa completed her Warner degree, Lucas enrolled in Warner’s doctoral program in educational administration, with a specialization in K-12 schools. The couple, who have two children, intentionally planned for their doctoral programs to not overlap.

Lisa says that her time at Warner exposed her to some remarkable experiences, such as ScienceStart!. Funded by an Early Reading First grant, ScienceStart!, developed and led by Professor Lucia French, capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity about the world around them and uses science as a vehicle to develop language, literacy, and school readiness skills among preschoolers.

“It was a really nice opportunity for me to step into a pretty established research project that was focused on fostering language and literacy at the preschool/early childhood level,” says Lisa whose interests have always been on language and literacy development practices.

Toward the end of Lisa’s doctoral program, she also had the unique opportunity to do a LEND (Leadership Education & Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical Center. As part of the autism training grant, this experience gave Lisa specialized training in autism diagnostics and allowed her the opportunity to support a community consultation team on school days consultation, to work in the Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Clinic (formerly known as Kirch Developmental Services Center) supplementing their developmental pediatric and speech language evaluations, and to develop an electronic training series for providers.

She reflects back to the day she graduated from Warner, when University of Rochester President Joel Seligman said: ‘You are now leaving us as thinkers and problem solvers, so you have this degree and you will take it forward with you but at the core you will always question, think, and wonder, and that is what will take you far.’

“That has always stuck with me,” she says.

According to Lisa, a growing number of kids today are going without preschool and early intervention services because of a provider shortage of speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists. At Nazareth, Lisa works with students in clinical settings on developing the dispositions, competencies, and skills that will make them effective providers of evidence-based practitioners over time.

“I feel like I am in a position now to be a part of those problems and solutions and to focus on really important questions around preventative services and family access to those robust early childhood experiences,” she says. “It’s really an amazing position to be in—to be able to work with young professionals who are so malleable and eager to be change in the world.”

Prior to her full-time teaching and supervising gig at Nazareth, Lisa spent six successful years as the director of education at EnCompass, a locally grown nonprofit that partners with community agencies and schools to provide academic intervention and enrichment services that are paired with schools’ instructional priorities. During her time there, Lisa played a role in helping the company to reach more kids and families through more coordinated partnerships with collective and impactful gifts that have resulted in additional funding and increased outcomes for kids.

“She was pretty amazing at that job,” says Lucas who proclaims that his wife is not a status quo kind of girl. “When Lisa was at EnCompass, we were both managing people, and I always appreciated her perspective and style in how she managed her employees. When you manage people, there needs to be some strategy, and I have learned a lot from her.”

A former fourth-grade teacher, Lucas has always had the career aspirations to be able to inform curriculum and instruction. He knew that a doctoral program would provide the additional training to help inform his current work as a school leader in a suburban school and his impact on curriculum and instruction over time.

“One of the takeaways or realizations from my Warner experience is the whole notion of social justice, such as providing a voice for people who don’t have one,” says Lucas.  “Our kids have several needs—socially, emotionally, socioeconomically—and I am responsible to these kids who need great educators in their corner. I feel called to be here, and I think what makes this challenge so important is that I am advocating for kids who really need it.”

Lisa adds that Lucas demonstrates the core commitments to student learning, staff, families, and the school community that allow him to sift through what the realities and necessities are in order to ultimately provide learning environments where kids can be amazing and staff can be supported.

“He challenges people, in a non-threatening way,” she says, “and he leads by example. He’s at a digital conversion school, and he’s constantly thinking of ways to incorporate technology into his own leadership.”

A strategy that has helped Lucas to excel in his career:  strong mentors.
“On some level, you get to choose who you work with at Warner and I aligned myself with some really strong people who pushed me and inspired me in ways that I have never been before,” says Lucas.  “A constant for me was Dr. Stephen Uebbing, who is transformational in his own way—both conceptually and theoretically, but really practically. And I have never worked so hard in a class as I did in Dr. Kara Finnigan’s ed policy course, but in a really rewarding kind of way.”

Looking back on his time at Warner in relation to the rest of his career, Lucas is thankful that his theoretical side and interests in practical application were both met at Warner.  For Lucas, the transformational type of deep thinking was really important as was attending class with someone who was either a practicing or retired administrator and who could share an applicable case study.

Today, Lucas is focused on bringing his leadership skills to help better connect kids to school. He even focused his dissertation on the topic, which examined how connectedness impacts students’ entire school experience, including academic experience.

One of the things that Lisa teaches her clinicians is that it’s just as important to connect with the family as it is your client.  As an educator, Lucas feels the same way. “For me, just to be part of someone’s family is a really awesome and powerful experience," says Lucas, who remains pretty humble. “It’s a privilege to work with someone’s child, and it’s an honor to become an extension to that child’s family."
Lucas and Lisa HileyAs for the Hiley’s biggest accomplishments so far, Lucas jokes, “Well, we remained married through two doctoral degrees.”

Kidding aside, though, the couple says they are just getting started and there’s a lot to look forward to in their careers. Lucas and Lisa recognize their complementary interests and talents, and down the road—closer to retirement, maybe—they hope to eventually combine their strengths and work together, even possibly co-author a book.

For now, Lucas and Lisa will continue to focus on what they do best—helping others learn, grow, and flourish—and devote more time to gaining fulfillment from both their personal and professional lives.