Story

March 31, 2020

KIPP Texas quintet reflects on Fisher Fellowship experience, looks toward future

By: John Holt KIPP Texas Public Schools Talent Recruiter

In just a few short months, Olvin Carias, Brandon Fried, John Hipp, Dulce Negreros and Ryan Presley will carry new titles after their names: Founding School Leaders.

As the start of the 2020-21 school year nears with each passing day, all have gained new skills, knowledge and perspective while serving within KIPP’s Fisher Fellowship, a highly-selective, one-year, cohort-based leadership program that provides in-depth support and insight into the processes and best practices involved in school leadership.

The transition from Fisher Fellow to Founding School Leader is no easy feat. Yet, those placed into the fellowship strive to capitalize on the opportunity and, by its end, are equipped to open new schools.

In this year’s fellowship cohort, there are 16 Fisher Fellows – five are Texas-based. Here’s a bit about each.

OLVIN CARIAS, Founding School Leader, KIPP Texas – Houston East End High School  

Nine years ago, Olvin Carias joined KIPP Generations Collegiate as a founding teacher after having previously taught in Cambridge, Mass., and Miami. At KIPP Generations, he taught everything from Algebra to AP math for eight years before becoming a Fisher Fellow last summer.

“I think since day one at KIPP, I came in thinking, I knew basically everything about education,” Carias said. “Then, I learned quite a lot about particular instruction and culture. As the years went on, I continued to learn how important it is to let kids identify who they are and bring that to their school every day.”

Hailing from a single-parent household, Carias is the oldest of six and grew up in a low-income neighborhood. The first one in his family to finish high school and graduate from college, his role as a teacher deeply hit home.

“Every time that I was in front of my students, it reminded me of the opportunity, especially for those who were for the first time looking to do the same, going on the same journey that I was going through.”

Carias notes that even at a young age, he always had planned to become a teacher. Founding a school, however, is something he never could have envisioned!

“About eight years ago, I was sitting at an IHOP with a friend who is now a Fisher (Fellow),” Carias said. “We were thinking about how cool it would be to create our own schools and build that. Eight years later, we’re in the same cohort together, building a school. So did I imagine it? Maybe in my head somewhere but never actually expected it would come into fruition. It’s a cool journey.”

BRANDON FRIED, Founding School Leader, KIPP Texas Austin – Paseo Primary

Today, Brandon Fried is in his eighth year working with KIPP. Joining the organization in 2012 as a founding First Grade teacher at KIPP Austin Connections, there was a point early in his career when he didn’t think he was cut out to be a teacher.

“If you would have asked me eight years ago before I moved to KIPP, would I be a Principal here? No, it definitely was a no,” Fried said. “Just because I wasn’t sure if I could be a teacher. I think I realized the power of a supportive school environment and that’s really why I want to do this for others.”   

Fried credits his School Leaders at Connections for always encouraging him to try something new and to take on something extra.

“Each year,” Fried said, “I was really fortunate to get stretch opportunities. Now I look at it, there are a lot of things I’ve tried or practiced that I’m really glad to have done.”

Following two years as a classroom teacher at Connections, Fried shifted into an Assistant Principal position at the school where he would serve the next five years. The experience proved to be beneficial for his growth as a leader and coach.

“My path in life was shaped by the access I had to an education. I realize the access and opportunity that affords me now as an adult. I feel like I have a big responsibility to continue that for others.”

Fried understands that the transition from Fisher Fellow to Founding School Leader could be challenging, and he plans to be as prepared as possible when the moment arrives to open the doors of KIPP Paseo Primary.

“There’s a lot of responsibility and it requires a lot of faith from people,” he said.

JOHN HIPP, Founding School Leader, KIPP Texas Austin – Paseo Preparatory

The path to becoming a Fisher Fellow wasn’t always straight for John Hipp. Unaccustomed to the rigors of a Tier 1 university, he earned a 2.0 grade point average during his first semester at the University of Texas at Austin.

“My freshman year was a rude awakening; though I had done well in high school and had been told I was ready for college, I was NOT,” Hipp said. “I had to rethink my future, approach, and abilities.”

Eventually turning the corner in the classroom, it was Hipp’s experience as a Breakthrough Collaborative teacher in the summer of 2007 that is among the reasons he does this type of meaningful work today. That summer, he instructed a student named A’Keelah, whom he hasn’t forgotten.

“She was a sixth grader, who could not read,” Hipp said. “I spent that summer working very hard to remind her she was capable of anything, and showing her what was possible with hard work, love, and accountability.”

After spending two years as a teacher with DeSoto Independent School District, Hipp began his KIPP journey in 2010, helping found KIPP Colorado’s first high school, KIPP Denver Collegiate, where he taught Algebra I and served as a Grade Level Chair for two years.

Hipp moved to Austin in 2012 to begin working at KIPP Austin Collegiate. He spent the next seven years serving in various roles including Geometry teacher, Algebra I teacher, Algebra II teacher, freshman seminar teacher, sophomore seminar teacher, Grade Level Chair and Assistant Principal.

Transitioning to Fisher Fellow status in the summer of 2019, Hipp is pleased that he’s experienced the most growth during his time in the Fellowship.

“It’s been a very rigorous, rewarding, and challenging experience,” Hipp said. “I am a better leader for our students, staff, and families because of this experience.”

DULCE NEGREROS, Founding School Leader, KIPP Texas Houston – Mosaic Academy

For Dulce Negreros, the Fisher Fellowship experience has been a reunion of sorts! She began her KIPP career in 2013 in Austin teaching science at KIPP Austin Collegiate, serving with fellow faculty member John Hipp. Negreros also worked with Fisher Fellow Brandon Fried during a summer KIPP School Leadership program.

“I was really happy to know that I was going to be in the Fisher Fellowship with them,” Negreros said. “I had that bond with them to begin with.”

Originally envisioning being a neurobiologist as her profession, Negreros applied to Teach For America out of college because she wasn’t committed to a graduate school program.

“I got into TFA, and fell in love with teaching,” Negreros said.

After three years at KIPP Austin Collegiate, her uncle was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and she chose to transition home to Houston. Negreros  joined the KIPP Houston High School staff in the fall of 2016 where she served as a Dean of Culture and Assistant Principal during her tenure at the school.

“I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the mentoring and support from some pretty amazing people, which are the instructional coaches from KAC and the KIPP Texas – Houston team,” Negreros said.

“Programs such as the KIPP School Leadership team and the Fisher Fellowship have been vital to my success, especially with the additional coaching that I’ve received.”

 

Similar to Carias, Negreros proudly does this work because of the daily reminder it provides her.

“Students, when I see them, I see myself,” Negreros said. “Every journey is different. We can’t compare those journeys. But the journey I had as a kid, living in a low-income neighborhood, a single-parent household, and first-generation college student is similar to many of our students.

“It reminds me of the importance of being there, caring, and being that champion that I was lucky enough to have. People who truly believed in me, even though I had obstacle after obstacle in front of me.”

RYAN PRESLEY, Founding School Leader, KIPP Texas Houston – Mosaic Primary

Ryan Presley arrived in Houston in 2008 with Teach For America and served as a teacher at Gallegos Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District.

After four years, he transitioned to KIPP to become an Instructional Coach at KIPP SHINE Prep.

“I’d always known of KIPP kind of from the outside,” Presley said, “whether it was friends who worked at KIPP Explore, which was the closest campus to Gallegos at the time, or from students like many of our fourth graders who would matriculate, leave Gallegos and go to fifth grade at (KIPP) Intrepid. So I knew of KIPP, but it wasn’t until I moved and got the job as an Instructional Coach at KIPP SHINE Prep in 2012 that I actually really began to learn more.”

Besides serving as an Instructional Coach at SHINE, Presley later would become the school’s Assistant Principal and hold the same title at KIPP Climb Academy during the 2018-19 school year – a year that he describes as being important to him on a number or levels.

“I knew that I wanted to do the Fisher (Fellowship), and it really cemented the passion that I now bring to opening Mosaic.”

While 2018-19 proved purposeful in Presley’s educational journey, the current Fisher Fellowship experience has been one of a kind.

“I think it’s as much a spiritual journey as it is an actual journey of creating a physical space for future students,” Presley said. “It’s put me more in touch with why I am the way that I am and why I lead the way that I lead.”

The Fellowship’s structure was the biggest adjustment for Presley as he’d been so accustomed to working in schools for the past 11 years, coming to a building every day where he was surrounded by so many others – mostly children.

“In the first semester, there is just so much travel,” Presley said. “Even though you’re in tons of schools, you’re not with the kids, and the teachers, and the families that you see each and every day. For me, that was such a reminder of how much that sustains me in the work.”

Presley concedes that uncertainty is part of the Fisher Fellowship experience, but what keeps him at KIPP after eight years is the organization’s continued growth and evolution.

“It’s refreshing to be part of an organization that down to the foundational level of really reconsidering what is our mission and our vision in what we do every day, being able to bring that to life in a new place is actually a form of stewardship,” Presley said. “It’s being stewards of what we are to become and making that true in a new place.”

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KIPP Texas is hiring for a diverse team of dynamic, collaborative, and dedicated individuals with an unyielding belief that every child will succeed. If you want to be part of a supportive team that’s more like a family, then KIPP Texas is for you. Apply Now!