E3 Fellows Profile Series
Shawn Persick has been a public-school educator for around 25 years. Now, as the Chief Operations Officer of Hynes Charter Schools, she’s not in classrooms as much as she was when she began her career as a teacher. She manages complex logistics, from bus routes and timing, to building repair, to COVID-19 testing across Hynes’ three campuses in Lakeview, Parkview, and at the University of New Orleans. But, she doesn’t want to give up her interactions with children.
“I don’t want to be behind a desk,” she says. “I’m out there greeting kids, and helping with carpool duty, and bus duty…I still want to be connected. That is just a part of me that they’d have to pry out of me.”
Sometimes, the children come to her. In 2019, Persick moved her office to one of Hynes’ newer sites, at the University of New Orleans campus. Persick loves Halloween, and she had decorated her office with Halloween decorations – tiny skulls and a six-foot-tall skeleton named Virgil. She had settled in for the day, working amidst the decorations.
“Well, I was typing away at my desk,” recalls Persick, “and I hear breathing. I look up and I see a little kindergartner standing in my doorway going, ‘y’all come see, come see her office! It’s Halloween in here.’ And by that point, I have three little visitors in my office, taking a tour – that still puts a smile on my face.”
Moments like this remind Persick why she’s in her job. (And at this point, the students know her office so well they read books aloud to Virgil!) She wants every child across Hynes’ three campuses to have a smooth, strong educational experience, in safe buildings, with great teachers, and everything they need to learn.
“I can respond to emails, make phone calls, go to buildings, do whatever needs to be done. But when you remember that? Those little voices? You’re like, ‘yeah, that’s why we do what we do.’”
What she does is expansive. She ensures that the school is meeting all the compliance qualifications required to stay in operation and keep its charter status. She manages transportation, does all the school’s crisis planning, and manages facilities with the schools’ facilities director.
She’s recently had the support of the E3 Fellowship. Persick is a member of the second E3 cohort, a small group of leaders in New Orleans education who have come together as new or future charter executives. E3 is one of NSNO’s talent initiatives, and it serves to ensure the next wave of charter leadership is prepared, connected to one another, and grounded in principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Persick loves the community E3 provides.
Though being COO requires lots of logistical thinking, relationships are important for Persick, too. That’s why she spends time greeting students at drop-off and pickup, or welcomes visitors to her office Halloween displays.
She also values the connection and support of her E3 fellows, beyond the formal programming. “Within the E3 network, we’re networking, and we’re all texting each other, like ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Having those touch-points and human interactions, and having a feeling like you belong is very important.”
The program has also helped her think more expansively about her work. Though she’s always on top of the day-to-day needs of her schools, she also wants to think about how Hynes’ impact can continue to grow over the years.
“I think logistics and operations people, we’re thinking granular, but we need to think global. That’s really helped me frame how I think, like, ‘Okay, you’re here, Shawn, you’re here for these three schools. But what is your vision of the future?’”
As she considers the future, Persick is grounded by the present and the past. Her work represents a return “home” of sorts. Before running operations, she was the assistant principal of Hynes’ Lakeview campus. Persick actually began her career there many years ago, when she was an undergraduate at the University of Holy Cross. Now, of course, she’s back at Hynes as a leader.
Persick has even had former students return to teach.
“I actually have two students that graduated eighth grade, when I was assistant principal – one is a a 5th grade teacher at the Lakeview campus, and the other is a teaching assistant at the Hynes UNO campus,” explains Persick. “And to hear them say, ‘well, I graduated eighth grade from Hynes’. To tell them their experiences, from their perspective? That kind of stuff gives you the feels.”
She says she savors these connections. “My world has come literally full circle.”
Learn more about the E3 Fellowship here.