School of Education Alumni Honored for Impact, Influence, and Innovation

by Lucero Denisse Oceguera ’19

During Homecoming weekend, APU’s School of Education welcomed back its alumni with the goal of shining a spotlight on the transformative impact educators have in the lives of students. The School of Education Distinguished Alumni Awards Reception marked the first of what will become an annual tradition to recognize graduates who are making a difference in their schools, districts, and the broader educational community. For the inaugural event, three exceptional alumni accepted awards for Impact, Influence, and Innovation in their professional roles.

Jason Song, Ed.D. ’12, principal of New Covenant Academy

Recipient of the Impact award: Honoring an alumnus whose passion has made a remarkable difference: they have identified a need and implemented a change that has benefited their school, district, and/or community through their acts of service

Jason Song, Ed.D. ’12, is the founder of a faith-based school in Los Angeles’ Koreatown neighborhood. Since launching New Covenant Academy in 1999 with his wife, Kara, the school has grown from an enrollment of 11 students to a thriving learning environment with more than 175 students, 16 teacher, and 7 administrators. “Dr. Song has led this school into academic excellence while earning a doctorate from Azusa Pacific University, writing two books in Korean, plus writing for local newspapers and radio stations on Christian themes. His work and commitment to Christian values serve to advance his students’ beliefs and behavior for now and eternity,” said retired APU professor Christopher Quinn, Ed.D.

Song’s background helps him connect deeply to the students he serves. He was 12 years old when his family immigrated to the United States from Seoul, South Korea. Growing up in Walnut, Song earned his bachelor’s degree from Occidental College and his master’s degree from UCLA. He came to APU to obtain his doctoral degree in educational leadership. In addition to his work building and leading New Covenant Academy, Song has worked as a consultant to Los Angeles Unified School District superintendents and principals.

In accepting his award, Song noted that “although the destination is important, the span and trajectory of your journey is just as important, if not more.” This focus is something he tries to instill in students during their time at New Covenant Academy, preparing them for the rest of their education journey and a commitment to lifelong learning.

Maria Armstrong, M.A.Ed. ’01, Ed.D., superintendent of the Woodland Joint Unified School District

Recipient of the Influence award: Honoring an alumnus whose investment of his or her profession and time has made a lasting influence on the character, development, or behavior of their students

Maria Armstrong, M.A.Ed. ’01, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Woodland Joint Unified School District in the Sacramento area, providing leadership and guiding influence for all the students in her district. She is an educational leader students can look up to, and she understands the obstacles that sometimes stand in the way of achievement. A high-school dropout at age 16, Armstrong had three children by the age of 19 and was divorced at 21. To provide for her children, she began working on an assembly line, and eventually landed a job teaching soldering, electronics, and computers to high school students during a teacher shortage crisis. The principal of the school encouraged her to quickly earn her GED and helped her get into a teacher credentialing program. Armstrong went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in educational counseling from APU, and eventually her doctorate from the University of La Verne.

Her career in education spans many years: She taught high school for a decade before working as a school counselor, liaison for migrant students, assistant principal, principal, and deputy school superintendent. Today, as Superintendent of the Woodland Unified School District, she serves more than 10,000 students, 6 percent of them Latino and 27 percent English learners. There are other challenges as well—69 percent of her district’s students come from low-income families, and 6 percent are homeless. Looking back on her public school experience, Armstrong said she wants to improve the journey for both students and parents, alike. To that end, she created a program that provides parents with the tools and knowledge to be more involved in their child’s education.

“What I love about kids is their pure honesty,” said Armstrong. “They know when you’re a champion for them or not. My goal is to provide hope, inspiration, and encouragement to educate our children.” She keeps this goal at the forefront of all she does, visiting the schools in her district every day and establishing personal relationships with as many faculty, staff, and students as she can.

Ted Lai, M.A. ’06, education development executive at Apple

Recipient of the Innovation award: Honoring an alumnus who effectively utilizes active learning, experimentation, collaboration, and/or technology to inspire creative and innovative teaching and learning

Ted Lai, M.A. ’06, serves as an education development executive at Apple, where he collaborates with schools and districts to incorporate and improve the use of technology in the classroom to meet both the schools’ educational missions and the needs of every learner. Kathleen Bacer Ed.D., program director of APU’s M.A. in Educational Technology described Lai this way: “He works with school and district leaders all across the country to help them consider and articulate their vision for educational technology. He facilitates conversations within school leadership teams so they are better able to articulate why they are bringing in technology, rather than focus on what they want to buy. Ted has a tremendous impact.”

Now working at the forefront of innovation in education, Lai also has experience as a classroom teacher in Rosemead and Temple City, where he taught for seven years. That background informed Lai’s career as he transitioned from the classroom to teaching other educators about the effective use of technology in the classroom. Stepping deeper into that role, Lai attended APU to earn his M.A. in Educational Technology. In the online program, Lai found that the faculty “not only talked the talk, but walked the walked,” he said. “Having the opportunity to expand my expertise with technology through technology was highly beneficial.”

Previously, Lai served as a multimedia consultant for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the educational technology coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education, and the director of technology and media services for Fullerton School District. He is also a frequent conference presenter, bridging his expertise in curriculum and instruction with innovation and creativity in educational technology.

Lucero Denisse Oceguera ’19 is an editorial intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a Sociology major and a Spanish minor.