Graduate Student Uses Personal Experience To Inspire

Student Highlight: Jeff McCanna

Written by: Justin Ikpo (cehdcomm@tamu.edu)
Post date: March 27, 2017

The fruits of proper leadership often manifest in different ways. In the case of Educational Leadership graduate student Jeff McCanna, the mentorship he received at an early age helped him find his calling in serving students and advocating for their success.

McCanna has worked in education for over 26 years. Currently, McCanna works as the Officer of Human Capital for Houston Independent School District (HISD). He oversees four divisions ranging from faculty hiring, compensation, and employer relations. Throughout his career, he has strived to shape young minds around his community by reflecting his own similar experiences.

Born in Devils Lake N.D., McCanna was raised and spent the majority of his academic years in various small towns on the Ft. Totten Indian Reservation. He faced a number of challenges as a youth. His mother had him at a young age and raised him with very limited resources. He often moved around from school to school within the reservation and developed an apathetic attitude toward his studies.

“When I was going to school, I really wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities that were given to me,” McCanna said. “It was pretty much showing up every day and doing the minimum amount of work.”

Answering The Call

McCanna’s overall outlook and work ethic quickly changed once he attended a new school on the reservation called Minnewaukan Public School. After frequently being pulled aside by the school’s principal Ron Carlson, McCanna recalled meeting with him regularly to discuss his schoolwork.

“Mr. Carlson pulled me out after seeing what I was not doing and had higher expectations of me than I ever had in myself. He started holding me accountable for the work that I was doing and for the first time ever in my academic life, I really felt like somebody believed in me.

The mentorship that McCanna received became the foundation of his drive for success. He began to apply himself and eventually discovered a passion for education.

“He didn’t have to take the extra time that he took with us, but he did,” he said. “Though I was only at the school for a few years, I saw what he did as far as writing the emotional checks that it takes and the difference he made just by simply building relationships and caring about people.”

Leading By Example

Throughout his career, McCanna has held various positions in and out of the classroom including: teacher, assistant principal, curriculum assistant principal, and director of human services. As a teacher, he worked to build relationships with his students by focusing specifically on many of the same mentoring needs he once benefited from.

“As educators it is our job to supplement and support what our kids aren’t getting at home because we may often times be the only role model in their lives,” he said. “Unlike other things that can be taken away, once a student is given the gift of an education, it can never be repossessed.”

His acquired skills allowed him to develop a strong understanding of a mutual school and community relationship.

“I think the days of having parents involved transitioned to having parents empowered,” he said. “And now there’s been a transition to the component of community engagement and empowerment.”

Looking to enhance his educational skills even further, McCanna joined the Educational Leadership program in 2014. After an extensive search, he said he chose the program at Texas A&M because of its strong social justice focus. As a graduate student, he has met other like-minded educators across Texas equally as committed to changing the landscape of success. Education is an ever-evolving thing, McCanna said.

“I believe in order to help move education forward, it is important outside of the box. The only way to do that is to take a look at the state of Texas, identify those best practices, and do what we can do as educators to change our system. It’s really important for me to find quality teachers with grit and persistence to make a difference and give every student the opportunity that they deserve,” McCanna said.

More information on the PK-12 Educational Leadership specialization can be found on the EAHR website.