Role: School Leader in Residence
School: KIPP TEAM Academy
Learn more about Wayne’s experience at KIPP New Jersey.
What inspired you to enter the field of education?
When I was growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, I was always one of the few Black students enrolled in advanced courses. I struggled because I knew many of my closest Black friends were just as bright as me—but weren’t in my classes. This made me realize the many factors can result in Black students receiving fewer opportunities than white students. It was my first experience with the opportunity gap. As a high schooler, I was lucky enough to have two teachers, Mrs. Daughtery and Mrs. Lake, who taught me what it looked like when a teacher believed in a student and created a space for them to blossom and bring their complete selves to the classroom. I’ve always wanted that for my students.
When I got to college at Washington University in St. Louis, these experiences led me to Teach for America. I will always stand with Black children. I want them to have more choices.
What’s unique about KIPP New Jersey, compared to other settings you’ve worked in?
The first time I walked into KIPP TEAM Academy, it was so clear to me that everyone in the building was willing to do everything possible to impact children in a positive way. There’s a level of ownership of learning in students that I’d never seen any place before. They were clearly empowering kids to know that they can and would excel in life.
During my interview, a 7th Grader, Kumar, led the tour and he was so proud of his school, as he was eager to tell me everything about it. In other places I’ve taught, students went to school and then went home without much personal connection—but KIPP TEAM Academy has taught me the power of relationships and having a love for the children you teach.
How have you grown as a leader at KIPP NJ? And how do you help other teacher’s grow?
As a leader, you make a lot of decisions. At KIPP New Jersey, I always feel that this was a place where my decisions mattered. I am held accountable for decisions and their results, but I also feel like if I make the wrong call, I will be supported in making better ones in the future.
I’ve grown so much as a leader and teacher—and it’s due to my time at TEAM.
I arrived with a lot of technical skills around classroom management and leadership—being least invasive when managing a class, keeping the focus on learning, leading content team meetings, breaking down standards and reviewing student work—but what I learned here was more adaptive leadership—what it means to influence and inspire teachers to do their best work. Sometimes, it’s the little things that can count the most. I send cards to welcome new teammates and to celebrate the accomplishments of teachers who have been with us a long time. We want our staff to feel appreciated for a job that is often time thankless.
Working here changed my perspective on how to coach teachers—and the importance of leading with love and generosity and creating a space for learning. Teachers who feel empowered and supported are more likely to stay in our school—and that’s good for our kids. They thrive in the consistency of those relationships.
What does success look like in your role?
My first love will always be teaching. When I started at KIPP TEAM as a math teacher, 92% of my kids passed Algebra 1 PARCC— the highest rate that the school had ever seen. The next year, I coached 5th Grade English Language Arts teachers for the first time, and students finished out that year extremely strong—ranking amongst the top at KIPP NJ.
But that’s the academic side—I’m also proud of the fact that teacher turnover has decreased in our school. We’re attracting and retaining great people. Success is when every adult or child walks into the building and feels a level of clarity of purpose amongst the staff. For us, that clarity is about love for our students and academic success for all kids.
As a school leader—what went into implementing virtual learning at KIPP TEAM Academy during COVID-19? How did students stay connected and keep learning?
The people on my team are so brilliant—and it really showed during COVID-19! In a matter of days, we sat down and took every system we had in the building to see how we could create new expectations of our teachers in that remote space. We worked hard to make sure every system we had was clear. A lot of our teachers wanted to continue live instruction, so many did that while others did frequent check-ins with students via Zoom and posted assignments in Google Classroom.
We received instructional support and guidance from leaders at KIPP New Jersey, but we were also able to share best practices from TEAM with other schools—the flow of information went both ways. We shared the best ways to take attendance, grading practices, Google Classroom quirks, and basic expectations for children while on Zoom with their peers and teachers. We wanted everyone to stay in touch with one another, so we made sure advisors were contacting kids twice a week to let them know what they were missing. Tutors continued to have their advisory every week so there was that time teachers got to check in with kids and make sure they were doing OK and staying mentally healthy. Teachers would encourage students to bring their lunch to Zoom sessions on Friday. Our sixth graders even had dance sessions they organized in their free time. It wasn’t easy—but we worked together to help our students and their families.