By John Holt, KIPP Texas Public Schools Talent Recruiter
Shortly after Brenda Reyes was hired to be a founding sixth grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at KIPP Paseo Preparatory in Austin, founding principal John Hipp sent her something in the mail.
“He sent me a Christmas card,” Reyes recalled. “I was shocked! I had never had a boss send me a holiday card. It was really nice of him.”
Hipp made it a point to mail holiday cards to all of his Paseo hires and noted the gesture was a simple one.
“I like to show appreciation for others in the ways that I like to be appreciated,” Hipp said. “I like the power of the written word. I also like to do things that are unexpected.”
As unexpected as it was, the action provided Reyes an extra sense of clarity that she was joining a Team & Family that cared and valued her as a whole person.
“I’ve had experiences with different principals,” Reyes commented. “Some are good, some are bad. With John, I can tell off the bat, he’s really into building relationships with his employees and really being there for them.”
Paseo Preparatory, one of five KIPP Texas schools set to open its doors for the first time in August 2020, will open for fifth and sixth grade students. Hipp intends to establish a culture where everyone belongs and where the five core values are connection, excellence, justice, growth, and purpose.
“Our students will come to us on their path in life, and we feel it’s our responsibility to push them further on their path towards the life that they want to create and live for themselves and their families,” Hipp said.
In opening a new school, Hipp is targeting teachers that carry a record of achievement, maintain flexibility, bring a founder’s mindset, and consistently put relationships at the forefront. When interviewing Reyes, he quickly discovered that she checked all of the boxes.
“The first thing that still rings true to me in getting to know her, is her identity as a Latina Spanish-speaking woman who takes a lot of pride in that, and wants to work in a place where our student body is representative of her identity as well.”
Growing up in Los Angeles, Reyes remembers her grade school teachers and administrators. The common theme between both: diversity representation was nonexistent. She also recalls her parents not being able to communicate with school staff members because they didn’t speak English.
“I saw them struggle with the education system,” Reyes said.
When considering a new home for the 2020-21 school year, Reyes explained that the stance KIPP Texas Public Schools has on diversity made an impact. Meanwhile, Paseo seemed like the perfect match immediately after she learned that the school would have a large population of Spanish-speaking students.
“It’s important for students to have teachers who understand them and their cultures and their languages,” Reyes said. “In my own experience as a Spanish-speaker, we weren’t given the opportunity to really embrace our culture or our languages at school. Often times, it was a no-Spanish school zone. You’d get in trouble if you spoke Spanish on campus or in your classes.”
For Reyes, her next step is completing a term commitment with Teach for America Greater Tulsa. She’s in her second year serving as a corps member and her term is set to conclude in May. From there, she will make the move to Texas and begin working with KIPP Paseo.
Looking back on the entire interview process, Reyes admitted that she put all of her eggs in one basket in attempting to get hired by KIPP Texas. Her parents reside in Austin and she’s always liked the idea and challenge of being a founding teacher. It also didn’t hurt when she learned that KIPP Texas-Austin offers onsite daycare where she can place her newborn daughter, Estela.
“It was a place that I just really wanted to be,” she said.
The feeling proved to be mutual and Hipp believes a strong tone will be set having Reyes aboard. “I think she is going to be a rock star,” Hipp said. “I’m really excited for our students, a majority who are Latinx, to walk into our school and have a teacher who looks like them, and will continue to encourage them to prove the possible.”
If you are interested in joining the KIPP Texas Public Schools Team & Family, please view our openings here.
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