Friday December 15, 2023

Aspiring Administrators Prove Representation Matters to Students

Being first means something. It means winning a race or competition, or getting the highest score. It means being the first (insert gender, person of color, of a certain age, etc.) to accomplish something.

Being in the first cohort of teachers to graduate from the OKCPS Foundation’s Aspiring Administrators Pipeline Program also means something. Each of the ten participants met specific criteria, including being employed by OKCPS for at least three years and having completed professional and leadership development proving their leadership acumen. All were highly recommended by their principals and other district leaders. Many were the first in their families to complete college to become teachers. And, all are bilingual and/or people of color.

These teachers are from a wide variety of backgrounds and teach a variety of subjects and grades at elementary, middle and high schools within the district. The program funds 100 percent of their tuition, fees and books to earn a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. With that comes the commitment to stay in OKCPS a minimum of three years. The application and selection process was rigorous and the highest standards were upheld to ensure the cohort was filled with successful candidates.

Growing leaders who are representative of the student populations they serve is important and data proves this. While more than 80 percent of OKCPS’s student population in nonwhite, only 38 percent of our school leaders are nonwhite and less than one percent are bilingual. National data is very similar. Intentional work to bridge this gap is what makes the Aspiring Administrators Pipeline Program so valuable.

There are numerous studies showing that representation adds to student achievement and outcomes. This comes in many forms including role modeling, attendance, expectation setting and family engagement. With so many of our students speaking a language other than English at home, the family engagement piece is especially important. There is research that shows that a student who has exposure to even one Black teacher by 3rd grade is more than 13 percent more likely to enroll in college than his/her peers.

The ten members of this cohort all have their own incredible stories. They all worked incredibly hard over the past 16 months to earn their degrees, with the help of our higher education partner UCO. They all believe in the students they serve, and know that whatever individual career path they take within OKCPS, they will continue serving our kids.

Jennifer Michelle Reyes-Garcia is one of the cohort graduates and was selected by her peers to speak at the graduation celebration hosted by the OKCPS Foundation last week.  In her speech she shared her story:

“My name is Jennifer Michelle Reyes-Garcia. I was given the first name of Jennifer in honor of my persecuted Jewish paternal grandmother who was forced to flee her home country of Russia and immigrate to the United States in 1943. Michelle was chosen by my mother, the great granddaughter of Peter Pitchlynn or Snapping Turtle, Principal Chief of the Choctaw Nation. Finally, I took on the surname of Reyes-Garcia when I married my husband, a once undocumented immigrant who traveled with his family through the desert to the United States at the young age of 5 in search of safer living conditions. My identity is unique to me, but many parts of who I am resonate deeply with each of our district’s 34,000 students. Oklahoma City Public Schools is the epitome of diversity.”

Jennifer shared much more about why this matters and what she and her peers learned about leadership throughout their educational journey. She ended her speech with this:

“I am bilingual. I am the wife of an immigrant. I am the granddaughter of an immigrant. I am Choctaw proud. I am OKCPS. And we are OKCPS.”

–Mary Mélon-Tully, President and CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation.

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