As a child waking up at 4 a.m. during the summer to pick peppers to help support her family, Stephanie Iszard ’10 (School of Education) never imagined she’d ever become a school principal, let alone someone who would be thanked for inspiring others to succeed. God provided resources and voices of encouragement though, and through hard work, exploration, faith and sacrifice, Iszard now holds a Master of Education from Regent University. She is using it to inspire teachers and students locally at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Bowie, Maryland, and state-wide, serving on Maryland’s State Board of Education.
“I grew up with nothing, but it was a public school teacher who invested in me,” said Iszard. “Now, I’m trying to pay it forward. Anytime I get the opportunity to speak to a group of kids who society says will become a statistic, I tell them I should have been a statistic, and I’m not. I don’t believe your circumstances are who you are. It’s what you make out of it.”
Iszard says she would not erase these circumstances, because they shaped who she is today. She and five of her eight siblings grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. Picking peppers that would eventually end up in hot sauce inspired her to work hard, but she knew she wanted more in life, and people kept pushing her. Her youth pastor and a high school teacher saw her potential and encouraged her to take more challenging classes in high school. This teacher helped her get into college, where she studied communications and nursing before realizing her calling was education.
“I realized that my real passion was helping other kids learn, because someone invested in me,” said Iszard.
Iszard’ s education career took her back to her hometown to teach ninth-grade history, then to Brooklyn, New York, to work at Teen Challenge, and then to Maryland, where she married and became a stay-at-home mom with two children. Later, her husband abandoned the family. With no money left in her bank account, Iszard walked into her children’s private school, prepared to withdraw them, but instead was offered a job. This enabled her children to continue their education there. Iszard eventually became dean of students, and then, with the help of her boss who would watch her children, began earning her Master of Education at Regent through distance learning.
“The master’s degree at Regent enabled me to earn more income, so I could support my family,” said Iszard. “At first, I was so stressed and didn’t think I could do it. I wanted to quit after two days, but my professor called me. At the time, I was working two jobs consecutively, teaching seven classes and dean of the middle school. I told her I couldn’t do it, and she encouraged me and kept telling me I was tougher than that. She was the reason I stayed in, and I did it with the grace of God with all A’s and only two B’s.”
Iszard learned a lot about positive discipline, how boys learn, and teaching to multiple intelligences. The degree allowed her to later become principal at Cornerstone Christian Academy. She says she’s using all of the things she learned at Regent to shape the classrooms in the school, and encourages other teachers considering higher education to go to Regent.
“I train my teachers on how to identify what type of learner is sitting in front of them and how to teach to individual learning styles. My staff has to highlight in their lesson plans how they are going to teach to each individual type of learner.”
Iszard also serves on the Maryland Board of Education with the goal of providing all students with highly effective teachers and educational leaders, promoting a safe and healthy learning environment for all students, and ensuring students’ physical and mental health so they can be fit to achieve. She is passionate about schools that are receiving assistance on the basis of serving a high percentage of low-income families. She works to ensure those students who are gifted, talented and determined are challenged to succeed.
“For those who are studying to become a teacher, you are going to meet a kid who you might not think will amount to anything, but God knows their story. They are not who they are going to be. Just as my youth pastor and English teacher invested in me, I challenge all educators to invest in kids no matter their zip code, attitude, or perceived academic struggles. Look at every child as an individual with unique qualities, because you have no idea who is sitting in your classroom. There are future doctors, lawyers, teachers, philanthropists, missionaries, only God knows. Therefore, speak words of encouragement and life to children, because your words will out-live you. They will give to the next generation.”
“Her faith has been tried, confirmed and is growing,” said Pastor Mark Lehmann, her supervisor and friend for 23 years. “She’s full of life, determined, and high energy is not a strong enough term for her. What she does, she does with all of her passion and all of her heart. She’s so committed to impacting these students academically and spiritually.”
Iszard says God used education to rescue her from a life of poverty, and she encourages her teachers to advance and grow as her school strives to offer an excellent Christian learning environment. Her daughter is a junior in Regent’s College of Arts & Sciences.