What is top of mind for you right now in your role as CEO?
Daily, I am thinking about how to find alternative solutions in regards to the staffing shortages, closing learning loss gaps, chronic absenteeism, and social and emotional well-being of kids and adults. I’m constantly grappling with new ways to keep our kids focused and motivated, while putting more on their plates – while still trying to make sure we are meeting a teacher’s need in terms of work-life balance. Currently, I have a task force exploring what it might mean to bring in part-time instructors to provide high-quality instruction, while meeting the requirements of the state.
You recently completed the Fellowship for Public Education Leadership. How has the experience with The Broad Center at the Yale School of Management influenced your work?
The Fellowship helped to broaden my view to think more from a systemic perspective – not just educationally, what happens in the classroom. You have to be intentional about communication. You need to think about decision making, the power of network mapping and understanding your community. I joined KIPP Memphis as CEO in November 2021 and frankly a lot of things needed to happen immediately. I had to think holistically, both internally and externally; I needed to think about meeting the needs of all of our stakeholders while making the main thing the main thing – ensuring that kids’ needs were at the forefront.
What is the most exciting work KIPP Memphis is undertaking at this moment?
We are in the midst of a strategic planning process, and it’s exciting to see that plan come together and to develop our north star for the next several years.We are thinking about rigorous instruction for all, career connected learning, school culture, engaging families and communities, and organizational coherence. We’re conducting focus groups with students, staff, families, and external partners to ensure all voices and perspectives are represented.
At the same time, we are going through an operational transformation initiative focused on improving physical learning environments for our students and staff. It’s difficult work – but it’s worth it to see the happy faces of kids and families walking into schools that have new windows, new walls, new HVAC.
What is one thing KIPP Memphis is doing to increase equity for students?
We are trying to level the playing field for our students – to address any barriers of why a kid might not be learning. The area our schools are located in is a desert in many ways – a food desert, or just a desert for products and services. With that in mind, we conducted a “necessity drive” focused on providing external partners the opportunity to pour into specific zip codes within the city. From this effort, we’ve created a necessity closet with essential items like hygiene products, shoes, hats and coats. Staff and community partners will continue to provide resources for our families on an ongoing basis to ensure basic needs are being met. External partners also commit to being volunteers within our schools, hosting field trips at their respective business, or mentoring in some capacity. The overall goal is to expose our students to a world beyond their one to two mile radius.
Anything else you want to share about your experience with TBC at SOM?
The Broad Center experience was an opportunity to have your philosophical views pushed, whether that meant from individuals within the cohort, classroom assignments, case studies, or conversations with staff or distinguished guests. I appreciate the connection across the four modules we engaged in together – how do you unfold your leadership plan of action? What are your moves at the beginning of the year versus near the end? I know being connected to TBC at SOM will continue to support my ongoing leadership journey and equip me with resources to impact society and serve mankind.