Deanna Reddick is the School Leader and an Algebra teacher at KIPP Morial Middle School. Trained as both a lawyer and a teacher, Deanna has been in education for 20 years. She began teaching at KIPP Morial in 2006 and became the school leader there in 2009. We spoke to her about her experiences in New Orleans’ education.
You’ve been an educator for 20 years, but you were a lawyer before that. What brought you to education?
I graduated from law school and started working in juvenile courts. I was really saddened by the idea of kids getting in the system so young – a system that’s really hard to get out of. I wanted to make a difference in a different way. I wanted to not only get children out of the system, but prevent them from getting into the system. I knew that education was the key to it all. So I left that role, went back to school and started teaching.
What is your mission statement as a school?
Our mission statement is to provide relevant, rigorous, and responsive instruction across all disciplines that inspires and prepares our scholars to make the world a better place as transformative leaders with proud self-identities and trailblazing spirits.
The statement itself is not sticky for kids, and so we created something that they could hold onto. We talk about striving to make sure our kids are empowered, excellent, and extraordinary in every way.
We tell them that when we talk about empowerment, we’re talking about you making choices that determine your destiny. When we talk about excellence, we talk about how there’s no finish line, and we always keep working to be better. When we talk about being extraordinary, we talk about not being what people expect of us – going above and beyond and having extraordinary character.
That’s who we are, 100% of the time, and teachers model that for kids. It lives in the building and everybody is aligned to it. That makes things work.
Can you share a story about a time when a student inspired you?
There’s one whole family that sticks with me. When I started at KIPP Morial in 2006, I had this family’s oldest daughter in my class. The family and I became really close, with a really strong relationship. I remember the mother asking me – and she was having her sixth child at that point – if I would stay until her last child got through the eighth grade. I made that commitment and I think about that every single day. There has not been a year without one of those kids in my building – now we are teaching that youngest one. The oldest has graduated from college, with a kid of her own. I still think having that connection inspires me to do the work that I do.
What’s the hardest part of being a school leader?
I think the hardest part of being a school leader is not taking failures personally. I take a lot of ownership over the success of my teachers and my scholars, and when something is not happening that needs to happen, I take a lot of that responsibility.
A lot of that comes home with me. I have to do a better job of separating the work that I do here at school and the life that I have at home. I’m not planning on going anywhere. This is what I plan on doing for as long as I’m still working, and this is the place I plan on doing it. And if I plan on doing that, I have to make sure it’s sustainable for me.
How do you try to be an example for your students?
I definitely try to be who I want my kids to be. In interactions with them, I can tell them, “I am really frustrated with you, but I still love you.” I’m mindful of the conversations I have not just with them, but with teachers in front of them, and with other kids in front of them. I’m mindful about how I work, how intentional I am about what I want for them, and making sure they know that.
In what ways are your students an example for you?
My students are definitely an example for me! I think about some of the struggles they are going through outside of these four walls, and that they are still coming in and giving 100%. I didn’t have to do that. I didn’t have those types of struggles. When I’m having a bad day, when things are not working out in my favor, I always reflect on that. A kid can go through what they’re going though, and still be their best.
What message do you have for your teachers, and all teachers doing great work in our city?
Teaching is the hardest job in the world, surpassing school leaders’ work. Teaching is the heart of the work and I want teachers to know that it doesn’t go unnoticed. Children have choices because they have had an excellent education from their teachers. I want them to know, no matter how hard it gets, it is worth it.
What do you wish for other educators in New Orleans?
I wish that people would stay in the work. I wish that when a kid comes into school, they know who they will find there. I think being in the same place over time builds a sense of community that impacts academic outcomes for kids. When you walk into a space and you have your favorite teacher, and then they’re not there anymore, and a couple years later you get another favorite teacher and then she’s gone, then you feel less valued. And so for teachers, knowing that to commit to this work and to stay in this work and to not give up on kids is really, really important.
What do you wish for students in New Orleans?
I wish they could see themselves through my eyes. I wish they would know that anything is possible. I wish they would know that their difficulties are temporary and that education can open doors that they never thought possible.