Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Leadership ATPE: Discover Your Potential

Leadership ATPE: Discover Your Potential

By Jennifer Tuten

Launched in 2018, Leadership ATPE is a dynamic one-year program designed to equip emerging leaders with the skills, knowledge, and best practices needed to serve the association, their school districts, and their communities. 

Leadership ATPE takes place every two years, and the next training academy will begin in August. Applications will be accepted through May 31, and applicants who are selected will be notified of acceptance the week of June 26. Participants will attend two expense-paid leadership retreats, where they will receive training from experts in the fields of education, advocacy, nonprofit management, and more. 

ATPE caught up with a few participants from previous cohorts to ask about their experience with the program. 

Region 3 ATPE Director Mandy Vahrenkamp was selected to join the inaugural class back in 2018. “Leadership ATPE was something new … and it was going to give me the opportunity to make more connections with educators, along with being able to see how state officers serve the organization.” Vahrenkamp says the program has helped her become a better leader in her classroom, on her campus, and within ATPE. 

Nacogdoches ATPE President Roya Dinbali was no stranger to ATPE leadership (or leadership in general) when she applied for the program. Outside of ATPE, she volunteers for various programs on her own campus and within the community, including the National Honor Society, the School Health Advisory Council, and the local humane society.  

“When I first heard about Leadership ATPE, I was curious,” Dinbali says. ”But because I wasn’t new to ATPE, I wasn’t sure if I was the right candidate. My regional membership specialist Ginger Franks encouraged me to apply.”  

The experience paid off for Dinbali: “I’ve always known I like to lead, and Leadership ATPE assured me I was on the right track.” 

In contrast, Region 10 ATPE Vice President Clarice Cross saw Leadership ATPE as an opportunity to come out of her shell and the impetus to pursue new volunteer roles within the association: “I started out timid—I would mostly stick with my group. After I completed the program, I felt I was ready to run for region office. All those leadership skills I gained gave me the courage to branch out. Before, I was a ‘background person.’” 

Before applying for the program, Cross had served as a campus representative and later as Allen ATPE’s local unit president. “I felt partially prepared as a leader, so when I heard the application period had opened up for Leadership ATPE, I asked about it, applied, got accepted, and was super excited but also thought a little to myself, ‘What am I getting into?’” 

Cross quickly embraced Leadership ATPE and now promotes it at every opportunity. Her favorite part of the experience was the camaraderie with fellow educators from around the state. Those relationships extended beyond the program, and she and fellow members would often share the struggles they were experiencing in the classroom. “It helped to have that connection with people and see that we’re all together in this, trying to balance things, not just at school or within ATPE, but also with our families.”  

Region 13 ATPE Director Stephanie Stoebe applied for Leadership ATPE because she was interested in growing her capacity as a leader, specifically within ATPE. “I wanted to make sure that I represented the organization, educators, and even students the best that I could. Every educator has a voice, and I wanted to make sure that not only my voice was heard, but also those of others with whom I work in this ever-changing and demanding profession.” 

Stoebe adds: “Aside from the work on something that I was passionate about, I loved being part of a professional community inside of a professional community! There were educators from all across Texas, and it was so rewarding to hear their voices. Texas is huge! We need to hear about the towns as small as Dime Box to cities as large as Dallas. When the Legislature or TEA imposes rules or laws on our profession, it impacts communities differently.” 

Region 16 ATPE President Michael Renteria also built rapport quickly with fellow participants: “We became family over the course of our first weekend together. And, as I think about my experience with ATPE from the beginning, it is all about family. The family dynamic is what continues to drive my dedication to the organization.” 

Leadership ATPE members put that rapport to work as they collaborate on various projects that empower them to implement much-needed solutions in their own school districts. 

Cross says: “As a group project, we had to identify a problem and brainstorm solutions—our group tackled teacher shortages. We discussed reasons why teachers are leaving the profession and some possible solutions. There’s not going to be an overnight solution, but some possible solutions that districts could try to retain teachers and encourage people to come into the profession. It was good to work in a group setting and get new ideas from people from all over, then take those ideas back to our campuses.” 

Stoebe’s group completed a project called “Do Educators Have Free Speech?” In their research and presentation, the group focused on how many professionals in education feel discouraged from discussing educational issues or political topics.   

“They fear suppression or even retaliation from school and district leaders,” Stoebe says. “We talked about the dos and don’ts of voicing an opinion, the importance of always being professional, and even legal cases promoting free speech for educators. Of course, we also talked about ATPE’s stance on this topic. When leading any organization, it is imperative that your work and speech supports their mission and values.” 

Program preparation

Dinbali is always eager to share with others the value of her Leadership ATPE experience, whether a fellow member is looking for leadership opportunities within the association or looking to advance in their career outside ATPE: “If you have leadership ambitions, especially if you’d like to become an ATPE state officer, you’ll really get a lot out of the program. I learned a lot about myself and my leadership style, and I got to meet a lot of great people from all over Texas.” 

Cross agrees: “I recommend Leadership ATPE whether you’ve been a member for 20 years or five years.” 

Cross also wants others to know what to expect going into the program. “Going in, realize that you’re going to have to dedicate some time. It’s a unique experience, and it is definitely worth your time and effort. Go in with an open mind. Be willing to share; every local unit does things differently, and sharing those thought processes and best practices helps so much across the board. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. I just love the program in general. I think it’s awesome.” 

Stoebe adds: “If a person is interested in applying, I would recommend that they first think about ways in which they would like to lead, especially within ATPE. I am comfortable speaking in front of large crowds and being interviewed by lawmakers. I can think on my feet and candidly bring the realities of the classroom into any discussion. Many of my friends in ATPE are more interested in serving as a local or region officer. Leaders in this capacity are critical to our growth and success. My advice is to think about skills that you have now but also think about the skills that you want to grow in. Leadership ATPE will prepare you for that next step.” 

Renteria encourages applicants to reflect on three questions: What are you expecting to get out of it? Are you going in with an open mind and open heart? Are you looking to contribute and share? 

“Be rested and be ready to open your heart to some amazing people,” Renteria says. 

Educator empowerment

Attending Leadership ATPE empowered Renteria to take the leap into region leadership, and now he has his eye on bigger goals: “I believe that a state office position might be in my future. Getting out and meeting people and not being shy or uninformed made it possible for me to succeed.” 

Vahrenkamp has served on multiple ATPE committees, become more acquainted with ATPE’s inner workings, and learned more about how to be active and vocal in the political world. “I have written to the commissioner of education about issues with the Reading Academies, became Region 3 ATPE Director, and spoken out on my campus when the district was doing things that hindered us from doing our jobs.” 

Stoebe says: “I am currently serving on my school district’s committee to attract more educators to our schools. We are also working on offering paid certification routes to paraprofessionals who would like to be teachers. Thanks to Leadership ATPE, I am able to take the mission of my school district and spread the word to companies, individuals, and the media. 

“In March, I will be hosting a panel at SXSW EDU on the ‘5 Year Problem: Keeping Teachers in the Classroom.’ Three years ago, something of this magnitude would have intimidated me. Now?  I am confident in sharing my thoughts and opinions. I credit Leadership ATPE for my growth. If you’re an educator and you are waiting for somebody to do something about an issue, please realize that you can be that somebody.  Leadership ATPE inspired me to take a stand and then move forward on making changes in educational policy.” 

Participating in Leadership ATPE gave Vahrenkamp a new outlook on the unknowns of volunteering and leadership: “The state officers talked about learning as they went, not being afraid to ask questions, and so much more. This gave me the confidence to use my voice in many places. It helped me to realize I didn’t have to know everything in order to speak out. If I knew a problem or saw something that could be better I could speak up. I walked away from Leadership ATPE with more confidence in what I was capable of doing and with more comrades than I had before. I was blessed to be a part of the first leadership cohort, and we became each other’s cheerleaders, advocates, and friends.“ 

The most recent endeavor Vahrenkamp attributes to Leadership ATPE is starting a blog about education: “There is a lot that needs to be said and needs to be put out in a way that it can be heard and spread. I am one person, and while I may not make as big of an impact as others, Leadership ATPE taught me it doesn’t matter. I will do what I can do and encourage others to join in so the impact becomes larger.” 

Like her fellow Leadership ATPE alumni, Vahrenkamp eagerly encourages ATPE members to learn more about the program and apply: “It is a wonderful way to be able to connect with other educators across Texas and to come out stronger than you were. To prepare for this experience, the only thing one needs to do is be open minded, ready to participate, and willing to have fun. That is the best part of this program, and we had a blast all while taking in a ton of information. You will not regret being a member of a Leadership ATPE cohort.”  

How to Apply for Leadership ATPE

Applications for Leadership ATPE will open March 27 at

Applicants must have been an ATPE member for at least two years, including the current 2022-23 membership year. 

The following members are ineligible to apply: current or past members of the ATPE Board of Directors, current or past state officers, retired members, public members, college student members, and student teacher members of ATPE.  

Applicants selected for the Leadership ATPE class must commit to participating in two mandatory weekend training retreats during the program year.  

Applicants must pay an application fee. Payment is due at the time of submission of the online application. All other program expenses, including study materials and travel costs for the fall and spring retreats, will be covered by ATPE. 

At the time of the application, all applicants must certify that they have read all requirements of the program and will commit to attending both weekend training retreats and participating in all assignments during the program year. 

Visit for more details and to download the application. If you have questions about Leadership ATPE, please contact ATPE Membership Director Joy England at