Executive Director of Organizational Development and Equity, Seattle Public Schools
How did your interest in education begin?
As a young child my mother was a special education teacher at Rainier Beach High School. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, it was not uncommon for teachers to become surrogate parents to their students. My mother loved her students and I remember having students stay in our home from time to time.
I especially remember one student, Lee, who lived with us off and on for a few years. My parents treated him like he was a part of our family. He was my big brother. My mother tried multiple interventions to get him on track and successfully transitioned him into Job Corps. She had such a gift with all kids. I wanted to be just like her.
I attended college with the hope of becoming a medical doctor but I always really wanted to be a teacher. A few significant things happened while as an undergraduate that further shaped my interest becoming an educator: volunteering in Oglethorpe Elementary School in southwest Atlanta and summer tutoring at TT Minor Elementary School in Seattle. I loved the feeling that I experienced when working with students who looked like me.
I graduated from college in 1996 and moved from Atlanta to Seattle to work for Boeing as a hazardous-materials manager. I also signed up for the Boeing Learning Together Program, where I pursued my master's degree in education and teaching certificate. I started teaching mathematics, science and technology in 1999 at Asa Mercer Middle School in Seattle near where I grew up on Beacon Hill.
How have you been involved in education, professionally or as an advocate, over the years?
I started in SPS in 1999 as a STEM teacher at Asa Mercer Middle School. I have always been an advocate of ensuring high quality educational experiences in the mathematics and sciences for underrepresented student of color and females. I left Mercer in 2005 with the opportunity to serve as a STAR Mentor teacher for novice math and science teachers in Seattle Public Schools. I transitioned from the STAR Mentoring Program to become a middle school mathematics coach and in 2007 decided to pursue education leadership. I planned to attend the UW Danforth Educational Leadership Program in order to received a program administration credential.
I hoped to lead a school district mathematics, science or STEM department. However, I did a principal internship at Denny International Middle School with Principal Jeff Clark, who is also a Danforth alum, and the joy of school leadership hit me hard!
School leadership is the perfect combination of my love for working with adults with my passion for educating students. From 2010 to 2014, I served as principal of South Shore PK-8 School. During my time as a principal I became even more involved in education advocacy for early learning, access to STEAM, and advanced mathematics for all students. Additionally, I began to focus on leadership development as I had the opportunity to mentor several aspiring school leaders who are all now school district and central office leaders.
What one or two education issues are you most passionate about (and why)?
STEAM! I am passionate about STEAM education opportunities. Even after I left the classroom in 2005, I continued to teach in the summer UW MESA girls program for six years while I was a principal.
As a STEM student and former teacher, I understand the consequential impact of these educational opportunities for myself and the students who I have served over the past nearly two decades. The brilliance, genius and capabilities of our children are grossly underestimated, especially children of color. I know if our adult expectations for our kids would rise, our children would be unstoppable!
It is hard to stop at just two, but of course I would have to choose racial justice in our education system. We as educators have the potential to lead our systems for racial equity. Racial inequality is the crux of every educational issue we face as a nation. Our students need adults who have positive racial and cultural identities and who know how to: 1) build relationships with them (and their families), 2) hold high expectations for their capabilities, 3) collaborate with other adults to get better, faster, and 4) broker opportunities to expose our children to arts, technology, science and innovation—especially in the Seattle area.
Tell us about an educator who made a particularly large impact on your life.
Dr. Millie Russell, lecturer in biology at UW and former director of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity at UW. My father introduced me to Dr. Russell when I was a girl. He was her barber. He told her during one of her hair appointments about his daughter Keisha and about how "smart she is."
My father had me recite Langston Hughes "Mother to Son." Dr. Ru asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to a doctor. I remember her replying, "Do you know what it takes to become a doctor?" Over the years, I would see her occasionally and she would always ask me about school and my studies and if I still wanted to be a doctor.
In middle school, Dr. Russell reached out to my father with an opportunity for me attend a summer science program. Over the years and through high school she would take me to biomedical conferences and such. Finally, my senior year, I told her that I was interested in attending an HBCU instead of UW. I told her of my interest in Clark Atlanta University (CAU) and she contacted her good friend, the recently passed Dr. Isabella Finkelstein. Within a matter of a few months, I was whisked away the day after high school graduation to a CAU pre-college summer science program with a $1,500 scholarship and college credit. Additionally, I was awarded a Howard Hughes full scholarship for biology majors. The scholarship had funding issues, but I was picked up by a NASA scholarship for chemistry majors. Talk about brokering! Dr. Russell is one of the most influential people in my life.
Share an unusual/fun fact about yourself.
I am an avid hip-hop fan, especially Tupac Shakur/2Pac. I once jumped on stage during a 2Pac concert at Clark Atlanta University during Homecoming, October 1993. My kids didn't believe me until the June 2017 "All Eyez on Me" movie showed a scene of Tupac performing at the homecoming event. I was finally vindicated!