What’s your current organization and role?
I am proud to serve as the CEO of Ascend Public Charter Schools. We operate a network of 16 schools serving 6,000 students in grades K-12 across east and central Brooklyn. We are dedicated to providing all students rich and joyful learning experiences that empower them to live a life of boundless choice.
What is something you’re currently working on in your professional role?
We believe that having a high bar for excellence, running joyful classrooms, and keeping an organization-wide focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism (DEIA) are not mutually exclusive efforts. It is hard to do all three of these things together, but if we can get it right, the sky’s the limit!
I always tell folks I want Ascend to be a place that does dope things for kids and is a dope place to work. We have all worked or know places that are whack. So we are focused on creating a truly amazing space that attracts amazing people who in turn fuel powerful work.
How has your experience as a Broad alum influenced the way you approach your work?
Broad opened the door for me to K-12 education work. I had the privilege to work in several different districts, both traditional and charter. I learned that context matters. Broad has helped me grow in my leadership. Access to Broad’s network of leaders over the years has influenced my decisions on what kind of leader I want to be.
What is one place where you/your organization has been working to increase equity for the students and communities you serve?
As an organization, we have a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism. We are working to make this part of the ethos of the organization. This shows up in big and small ways. We are proud that our organization is predominantly people of color. However, mindset is also important – it’s a conversation we want to dig into more. Just because we have Black staff working in the heart of Brownsville, Brooklyn doesn’t mean everyone believes our students can reach high standards. This is nuanced and tricky, but an important conversation we need to have internally.
We also cannot simply cherry pick the parts of DEIA we want to follow. It doesn’t work that way. We can’t be down for representation and anti-racism work but then believe our sensibilities are violated when we talk about LGBTQIA and safe spaces. To really dig into DEIA, it has to encompass all that we do.
What do you think school system leaders should be thinking more about right now, as the United States works to stabilize and recover from COVID-19?
Running schools was always hard, even before COVID. I think the pandemic has introduced new constraints. The acute issue is talent, both in attracting and keeping folks. But the longer-term focus is doing what is right for kids. Both socio-emotional learning (SEL) and high academic standards are part of this equation to ensure we are preparing students to navigate their school and life journey leading to a life of boundless choice.
What is a thought-provoking education-related book or article you’ve read recently?
I don’t read as much as I would like but one book on my list now is: How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith.