Now that I’ve lived in other places, I realize that the way I came up was unique. I grew up in Southwest Atlanta. My mom was an educator and my dad worked for the Ford Motor Company. We were working class folks in a predominantly black neighborhood. But let me tell you—and this is what made my upbringing unique, this is what makes Atlanta unique—there were role models all around. Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson, Shirley Franklin—they all lived right around the corner. And at my public school, there were black teachers who loved and cared about us, teachers who imbued in us a sense of self-esteem, pride, and determination. Was life perfect? No. But in my school and in my neighborhood—everywhere you looked—there were professional black people changing the scope of Atlanta.
I had so many people pour so much into me. So I joined Teach For America because I wanted to make sure black and brown children were able to have the opportunities any other child was afforded. Time goes fast. I taught in East Oakland, then New York, came back to Atlanta, then off to New Orleans, then back again. I started at KIPP in 2004. And just like that, I’m in my 9th year as principal.
I’m so proud of my staff and scholars. The community we have created is special: there is a rigorous culture around academics as well as character. And the teachers in this school…how do I say this? They are caring and nurturing, they are empowering, they hold each other accountable—and they also understand that we are part of a results-oriented business. If the opportunities don’t come up for our kids and our families, we look at ourselves in the mirror. Teaching is a weighty task. We are charged with one of the most important jobs in the world. But to change the trajectory of the lives of our students and families, we all know that we need results.
People always ask, “What keeps you up at night?” And the answer, for me, is this: nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a whole lot we can do better. Right now, our school is focused on our students’ writing. We’re focused on setting up restorative practices; that is, we are shifting our discipline program away from separating students through detention or suspension and creating a model that builds more positive and healthy relationships. And of course, we are consistently and constantly working with our students to build and strengthen their character. But no, I don’t lose sleep. Like we teach our students, we come to this beautiful place ready to work. We give it our all. We make mistakes. And then we go home—to live our full lives—and come back the next day ready to be even better.