Former social studies teacher Donna Marie Cozine never thought of herself as an entrepreneur. Her career trajectory as an educator took her from teaching to a position as an assistant principal, then principal, and then as an executive coach for principals through the College Board. She was a coach for five years before she had a radical idea.
It was 2012 and Cozine was alarmed at the impact of the Common Core State Standards initiative. “Schools were ripping the arts out of curriculum,” Cozine recalls. “And it was counterintuitive because the arts grow so many other competencies.” Her own children were just ten months old and nearly three, and she knew what her priorities were for their education. Cozine thought ‘Hey, it would be great to start a school. How hard could it be?’ She now jokes that “how hard could it be?” should be on her tombstone.
She began planning her new school with a co-founder who dropped out of the project early on, so Cozine proceeded on her own. Renaissance Academy Charter School of the Arts opened its doors to 194 K-6 students and 32 staff members in 2014. Seven years later, when Cozine decided to make a second career change, the school had 506 students, a staff of 97, and a waitlist of more than 500 students.
Even before the pandemic hit, Cozine planned to step down as CEO of the school when her youngest child graduated from 6th grade. But COVID and school shut-downs posed many challenges for her. “I was at my dining room table managing my organization with 97 people and a $7 million budget from 7:30 in the morning to 6:00 at night, while my kids were in their rooms doing homework,” she says. “Something had to give.” Cozine had written two books: the first was a leadership book for aspiring superintendents; the second, which came out during the pandemic, was about building positive school cultures. She realized she could leverage her lifelong career as an educator to help individuals achieve joy and balance in their lives by using the tools she had developed to become an effective leader.
"In my most recent presentation to superintendents, I shared a [Newsweek Expert Forum] article that addressed the topic we were talking about. It does give me more credibility.”
Cozine founded her consulting/coaching practice, Consult DMC, in 2019, working with leaders in education at night and on weekends while she was still running her school. When she left the charter school, she then focused entirely on growing her business. “I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur,” she says. “But when you start a charter school from nothing, that is very entrepreneurial.”
She offers group coaching for female leaders, many of them principals and superintendents. School districts often hire her to work with their leadership teams.
“Before the pandemic, we were already in trouble with teacher and professional retention,” says Cozine. New teachers were leaving the profession at an alarming rate (45%), 17% of principals don’t stay in the same school for more than two years and 45% of superintendents don’t last more than three years. “There are districts who need high-quality people and if they get them, they’re not keeping them,” says Cozine.
“There’s no doubt for me that my work is important.” Through group coaching, educators learn how to set priorities and balance work and life challenges, set boundaries, and practice self-care. Cozine says she started out coaching both men and women but quickly switched to female-only groups. “The whole idea of affinity grouping, bringing women together for ten weeks and having them develop networks, is really powerful,” says Cozine. Participants have the option to continue individual coaching when the ten weeks are over.
“I like being a contributor [to Newsweek Expert Forum] because it keeps me on top of my game,” says Cozine. She is a frequent contributor to Expert Panels and has also written by-lined articles focusing on leadership. “I can leverage those articles and push them out to my audience,” she says. “For instance, in my most recent presentation to superintendents, I shared an article that addressed the topic we were talking about. It does give me more credibility.” Her Newsweek Expert Forum content, which is not exclusively geared toward educators, will help Cozine expand her practice to other markets, she says.