Story

March 23, 2021

High school principal aims to provide positive images for her female students and young daughter

KIPP Texas Public School continues to celebrate Women’s History Month honoring the incredible accomplishments and contributions of women throughout history, as well as to recognize and support the women who continue to carry on their legacies.

Today, we recognize KIPP Oak Cliff Principal Wauneta Vann, who, like many successful women, has mastered the art of juggling her professional goals, societal expectations, and her responsibilities to her family, her students, staff, and the Dallas community. As a Black woman and mother of a young Black daughter, Vann is committed to providing positive role models for Black girls, so they never cause to think that certain success is for others and not them. 

__________________

As a native Coloradan, Wauneta Vann was well aware of the lack of diversity in her Denver community and in the local education system. As a young student and later as principal at a Denver alternative high school, Vann met few educators of color and encountered few opportunities for advancement outside alternative schools for at-risk students. 

“The network in alternative schools was extremely diverse and the only place really in Denver where you saw black leaders. You didn’t see them in comprehensive high schools, you didn’t see them in other leadership roles,” said Wauneta Vann, KIPP Oak Cliff principal.

All that changed in 2019, when she attended an education conference in Dallas.  “I remember being in awe from seeing so many people who look like me, in positions of power,” said Wauneta Vann, KIPP Oak Cliff principal. “It was really powerful to me as a mom, raising a young Black girl. I want her to see herself as a leader and know that she can do anything,” she said.  

Excited about the diversity she saw in Dallas and the people of color in leadership roles, Vann contacted Dr. Anthony Smith, KIPP Texas-Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Superintendent, about potential job opportunities. Shortly afterwards, she was offered a position and moved from Denver to Dallas.  

“Educators talk a lot about culture and diversity and their importance, but KIPP Texas is living it. There are actions matching the words people are saying,” she said. 

Vann said KIPP’s diverse environment has been both empowering and inspiring for her and her young daughter as she gains more exposure to people who look like her. “The other day, we were on one of our calls and she saw La’Qoya Huskey, the principal at KIPP Truth Academy and she said, ‘oh mama, she’s a princess, you know the representation is there,” she said.  

Vann said it is important for Black children to see positive reflections of themselves. She is excited about  the opportunities at KIPP that will help her daughter and other Black girls form healthy personal perceptions of Black women’s hair and skin.

“It’s been huge to see her confidence in her hair and her curls when she looks in the mirror. She smiles and says ‘I’m pretty’,” Vann said. “I don’t want her to ever be in a space where she feels the ‘otherness’…eventually, she will because it’s something that women of color experience all the time, but it’s to a different degree when you grow up empowered.” 

Vann remembers past situations when people failed to hear what she was saying or understand the perspectives she offered, especially when race, privilege, and power influenced whose voice was elevated.  So she works to ensure that all her students feel seen and heard.  

During arrival and dismissal duty, Vann enthusiastically greets each student, checking in as they arrive and wishing them well as they leave. “I want every one of my students to know: ‘I see you; you matter, I care’.”  

Vann feels it’s important to recognize female students and to empower them to develop an awareness of who they are and why they matter.  “I love celebrating our young Queens and lifting them up, which could be complimenting their hair or outfit, or praising them for a test they aced or an act of kindness they showed.  I hope that I model a sense of feminist pride and that I celebrate that within all of our female students,” she said. 

Today, the vast majority of U.S. teachers are women, but fewer than a third of district superintendents are women. Vann hopes her work will inspire the next generation of girls to diminish the gender gap in what is considered a female-driven profession.

I am hopeful that as women continue to take space that is not held or allotted for them, we will continue to see female leadership rise,” she said.  

She is confident that the next generation can shatter glass ceilings and successfully climb the career ladder in any industry they choose.  Vann said that anytime change happened, women were the backbone for the change, historically. 

“There should be no ceiling for us. We just have to push through and champion each other. So climb on my shoulders, you climb on somebody else’s shoulders, and they’re gonna climb on yours, and we just keep lifting each other up to get there.”