KIPP Academy's Newest Principals Want to Make School Enjoyable

ByBella diGrazia

Read the full story at The Daily Item >

KIPP Academy started its school year with two fresh faces leading the charge.

Emily DoBell and Farida Mama Graham are the local college-preparatory school’s newest principals.

DoBell is leading the high school and Mama Graham the middle school, which begins in fifth grade at KIPP. They’ve been on the job since school began three weeks ago.

“For the most part the vibe has been really positive and our students are doing an awesome job,” said DoBell.

The high school principal grew up in Virginia and initially thought she would become a lawyer. She graduated from Hollins University after double majoring in economics and history. Fresh out of college, DoBell got a job through Teach for America in her home state, teaching special education for middle schoolers.

She said she never intended to stay in the education field but once she got into the classroom, she never left.

“I loved that no day was ever the same and the students, they got me through my first year out of college as opposed to the other way around,” she said. “They were where I found my joy, and they still are. There’s nothing quite like engaging with a new group of students every year.”

DoBell taught at traditional public schools in Virginia before she scored a job at a North Carolina KIPP Academy in 2009, where she began teaching math to fifth- and sixth-graders. North Carolina is also where DoBell met her husband, Josh, with whom she has a 1-year-old daughter.

“When I moved to KIPP it was clear that the whole point was everyone that wants to work here and wants to get really good at the job, will,” she said. “They prioritized, and we still do prioritize, teacher development.”

In 2012, DoBell made her way to Boston, where she opened the city’s first KIPP Academy middle school as its principal. DoBell said the transition from teacher to principal had its ups and downs, even more so with the transition from the younger grades to high school.

“I wouldn’t say it’s been easy necessarily but it hasn’t been discouraging in any way,” she said. “Every single age group has its own challenge. There is challenge in leading, there is challenge in teaching, but they’ve all come with tons of awesome support.”

DoBell said she and Mama Graham have spent the last three weeks collaborating to ensure the KIPP kids in Lynn will enjoy their time. The number one goal for both of them is to create a space students of all ages enjoy going to every day.

The two women will work with Lynn’s KIPP elementary school principal, Eveleen Hsu, until the high school moves to its own location in the city’s historic Blood Building, located at 20 Wheeler St., next year.

“Right now we work very closely together to ensure our programming sets students up for success in the high school,” said Mama Graham. “We have a strong elementary model that, once brought into our physical space, I think you’ll really see tight collaboration between myself and the elementary school principal, as well as continued collaboration with myself and Emily.”

Mama Graham grew up in Connecticut, in a small town just outside of Mansfield, the home of the University of Connecticut, where she graduated from with an honours degree in communication.

She went to elementary, middle and high school in her hometown before her undergraduate years. Her master’s degree in English language instruction is from Boston University and she received her principal licensure certificate through the Lynch Leadership Academy at Boston College.

Even though her father was a professor, and both her grandparents were teachers, she never pictured herself in the field. Then, Mama Graham fell in love with education. Her career began in 2011, teaching English as a second language in a mixed grades class for Boston Public Schools. A few years later, she started teaching math to fifth- and sixth-graders.

Before joining Lynn’s KIPP Academy, Mama Graham did a principal residency in Lawrence, near where her husband currently works as a director of school operations. The couple just celebrated their one-year wedding anniversary.

“Being a classroom teacher, you are always around kids,” she said. “As an administrator, it’s so important to make that time and not lose sight of ultimately why we’re in this work. It’s all about the kids.”

DoBell and Mama Graham said they’re excited to build on the school’s foundation of strong instructional coaching and support their teachers in being masters of their content. With the high school, DoBell has plans to open more curricular pathways, such as the engineering course that has already begun. She also hopes to get more students into higher level math courses before they graduate.

For the middle school, Mama Graham has brought back enrichment, which allows students the choice of 18 different activities to participate in during the school day on Wednesdays, such as yoga, a Lego club, and a supernatural club. She said the middle school is really trying to find opportunities for students to find their passion and purpose in the building.

“The opportunities in Lynn are beyond anything I’ve ever seen in any city and we have to keep tooting our horn a little bit louder so that everybody else sees it,” said DoBell.