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Meet our 2022 award winners

  Alumni Award Winners

By Whitney Stoepel-Brewer

May 23, 2022

Alumni Conversation Series: Darryl Patteson

Darryl is the interim principal here at Gary Comer College Prep in the Grand Crossing neighborhood in Chicago. He was 2008 Chicago core member after I went to Syracuse University, and taught math on the west side in the old Austin High School building for a couple of years. He did a couple other stops before joining the Noble Network 10 years ago. Before taking on this role, he was a math teacher at Noble, a math coach at Noble, and an assistant principal at Noble. He has educator in this particular region for the last 14 years. Darryl is one of our 2022 award winners.

I don't think I set out in this direction. I do love teaching, and so I always say it to everyone, but as we've had turnover in leadership here at our school, every person that's come in has needed something. And I six, seven years ago got an opportunity to become an instructional coach and really enjoyed the adult development side, too. I think two of my first cohort of teachers here are still on staff. One of them's a distinguished teacher here at Noble and has really become one of the best teachers. And I had just a chance to work with him, and he's done a lot of that work, but just being able to be a mentor and work with him was awesome. 

And so I kept moving up with those things and got a chance to move up to assistant principal and put my stamp on the overall school's instructional model. That was my vein of the school was definitely instruction when I was in that role. And when you get to have the greater impact on the entire school, you get to teach teachers how to be better for students. It just maximizes what you can do in the school setting.

And I still want to be in the school setting. It's really great to talk to, meet with kids, bring them in for relationship building, be able to jump in. I've had a couple advisories here at Comer, go through and graduate. So those connections are still really important. And you can do that in from this seat, but you're also just maximizing the impact. And, we have over 750 students here and you get a chance to, albeit indirectly, impact all of their education experience. And that's just super important. And then I've also just really been able to develop some amazing people in these roles. So getting to see the success that adults can have in the growth that they can make in their career is particularly important to me too.

I'm feeling great. It was an honor to receive the award. And I think it's just a great way to put a stamp on what we think is the right moves here at Gary Comer and just have that kind of approval of the work that we've been doing. The students we've had here, and a lot of the students I have had in my career, are just awesome students and they get to go off and really against the percentages for their neighborhood. Still go be successful people, and students, and graduate from college. And then when they come and they say, Hey, I think it's time for me to come back and I want to come and help out at the school. I'm looking to be that Kickstarter for their career. Because I think one of the things we promised to the families when they send their students to us, is that we're going to give them a good chance to get that college degree and get the career that comes with it.

I think there's a lot of ways to like to get to a career. But if you come back and say, I want to teach, I want to bring you on. And so right now we have many Noble alums, but particularly Comer alums, working all over the school. I just hired one of my first advisees from my 2016 group to be a culture specialist here to work with our students, to have mediations, to talk to him about what it means to do there. So to do the things that he has done in graduating, got to go to Morehouse, just finished his degree there. And he is working on his MBA, but he was like, I want to work with kids while I'm doing that. We've just hired another alum to come and be an English teacher. And she wants to bring her passion for that to the students who were in the same seat she was in just quite a few years ago.

We brought back a student, who honestly started in our instructional setting, had an IEP really, and was able to work his way all the way to AP classes and then graduated from college and he has come back and he is like, I want to be a special ed teacher. He's like, that's where my passion came from, from the teachers that helped me become a better student to the point where I was able to go from being in middle school, where they were telling me I had to go to a classroom essentially by himself to being an AP student. He's like, I want to have that experience. And like, I think those experiences that our students have had, becoming teachers then, is invaluable. There's nothing better than learning from the person who is in the exact seat as you, and to have alums want to come back is super important to me.

So that's a very long answer to your question, but it's like, I think one of my top priorities since I've been able to work in hiring, is bringing those students back. For me as a teacher, this goes way back as a teacher. I always wanted my students faces and voice to be heard. And so we had a mountain that we were climbing in the back of the room and students got to decorate a climber and go up that. Their quotes were about, like I said in my initial lessons on failure, because one of the things that you learn about math is you're going to get a lot of things wrong, but you got to keep trying to until you get it right. And so we said about failure and as kids came up with quotes, they got to make quotes and their pictures went up.

And one of the young ladies, when she graduated, asked me to frame her quote for her, give it to her as a graduation present. So I took it off the wall and did that for her. And these are the kind of things that I was able to do to build connections. And I think when you're a math teacher and, I do know how to do spreadsheets, but that was not who I identified as you know. So I really went after it from a standpoint of how do I get to know you? How do I get you to be represented in a class? And it's hard sometimes to bring representation into math because you know, it is numbers and there is the right answer. And you can only do a finite number of lessons on famous mathematicians, right?

So you have to really let students see themselves in the work and in the classroom. And one of my first leadership jobs was as the math content lead, and the thing that my principal said at that point was like, I need you to bleed into the other teachers. And so it's been a passion of mine to develop students, and to develop their social parts, while also becoming good at whatever thing they're supposed to be learning in that class. And so that has kind of been a thing that bubbled under and kind of framed everything that I did in terms of becoming a better teacher, jumping into more discussion based classrooms. And as I got into the assistant principal role at Noble, and coming out of the pandemic, we decided to kind of leave the zero tolerance demerit system behind, our instructional team sat down and got into a room this summer and was like, what does it mean to be a really good teacher?

And we realized that most of it was relationship, social, emotional things. Then you get into the planning and the nuts and bolt of it. But if you don't have those other parts, you're not going to have a lot of success in the school. And so we define it as that. And when you walk around the building right now, you see do nows, that's people like, Hey, how are you feeling? Because you, one of the easiest do-nows right now is one of those memes with nine pictures. Which version of this SpongeBob are you today? And that's such an easy thing for anything. It's like, oh, it's elementary. High school kids jump into that, like I'm number five and this is why, and they're going to find out a little bit about their life and why they're doing the things they're doing and how you can help them be better that day.

And it doesn't feel like a huge lift when you think about it, but it's just huge to really care about kids. And as an advisor, I was able to just do things like simple activity, like share a word about how you're feeling right now. Then people could ask questions of each other and they start building those webs and making connections. And all of that plays into wanting to be at school and feeling like the people around me actually really do care about me, because we do. And we devote a lot of time to this, to making sure that experience is there. But I think by codifying it and making a thing that we absolutely do at our school, that has changed the way that our individual students approach the day to day. It hasn't been perfect.

I mean, you can tell people when you switch from something more of a zero tolerance to a social emotional based thing, there's some growing pains and hiccups, but the vast majority of our students have better relationships with staff than I think they've ever had, because they haven't been given that space to really share and find it. And then the last thing is, of course, is being really passionate about making sure that the students find connections in the curriculum. And one of our best teachers here has made it a point to, instead of just teaching history by chronology, he gives a survey and like, what are the things you really want to know about when you walk out of this class? And there're certain things you have to know, for whatever, but I'm going to structure this in a way that meets what you want to get out of this, and I think making students an active part of their learning is just so vital to how we actually see the success here.

I think that how the work that we remember to do the same thing, if you'd asked me 10 years ago, this is actually that 10 years, this would be the midpoint of my Comer career if I'm still here in 10 years. And I think what I want people to remember it is just that he cared a lot and that goes a long way. And I have a lot of skills, I'm able to do a lot of things, but in the end, I care deeply about our students performance and what happens to them after high school is really important to me, and that is what I want people to take away. And the things that we talked about earlier in this conversation, bringing people back to work here, bringing students selves into the classroom are all ways of showing that you care. I think that's just my biggest priority is that, and I want to make sure that's what people see when they think about how I've impacted them.


Alumni Conversation Series: Jazzy Davenport-Russ

Jazzy Davenport-Russ is a south side, Chicago native. She grew up in  CPS and now works in CPS. She was an English teacher and now is an instructional coach. She is very passionate about education. She sat in the same seats as the students that she serves.  Jazzy is one of our 2022 award winners. 

 I did TFA in 2014 and from there I was placed, like I said, I was an English teacher. And as I was a very early English teacher, I had instructional coaches and I had coaches through TFA and I just really felt like that was so necessary as I was learning kind of the ropes, but I've also just received such valuable coaching on over the years. And so, I was like well, how can I share my tools with even novice teachers or teachers who are just eager to learn something new? How can I share my knowledge in what I know? And I had a couple principals who saw something in me. And so, I've made my way to being an instructional coach and hoped that I'm continuing to serve even more students.

 When I first got the call, I was very surprised. I had seen the application come through a while ago and I was like oh, get back to it. I'll read about it later. But then I got another email that would Sam Filo nominated me. And so, I was like well, let me look into this thing because well Sam knows me, so it must be something to it. And so yeah, I looked into it, I applied and it's been a month or so since then and life is hectic and busy. And so, I forgot about it. And so, when I got the call I was really surprised, but of course very honored and I'm grateful.

 Data is important and the numbers rule everything. It's not always the right thing to do, but they rule a lot of things. But I do believe that when we're looking at data, we also have to think about that qualitative data. And so, what I like to do in my work is to center students. If you want to know if you're doing something right, if you want to know what students need more of, if you want to know what's working, need to talk to students and get student feedback. And so, we integrate a lot of student feedback into what we're doing. So, when we poll students or ask students what's and they say, oh more group assignments. I like working collaboratively. We start integrating that into well, these are the look boards or these are the strategies that we'll work on to try to increase teacher capacity around group assignments, managing group work, managing groups in class.

And so, it's really designed in a way that really centers students or I try to design the work in a way that centers students in the student experience because we know that when students have a positive student experience, then that's where the achievement comes from. When they feel belonging, when they feel a sense of community, when they want to be here in school because they're excited about what's happening in the classroom, we'll see the numbers move. And so, that's a little bit of the work that I've done so far and I've been really grateful to have great assistant principals to partner with in doing that instructional work and the work that I continue to want to do as I continue in this role.

 I got in this work to find a way to create more equitable outcomes for students, Black students in particular. And I hope that my work is always remembered as somebody who believe that students, no matter where you come from, what you have, what socioeconomic status your family belongs to, that you deserve equitable, you deserve wonderful and quality education. And so, I hope that people remember me and work as someone who kind of lived by that. I hope to also be a person of impact that they say oh, I remember when Jazzy helped me do this or that and this really was great for my students.

And also just someone who led authentically. I think authentic leadership is very important and I hope that people can see that I bring my full self to the table and encourage others to bring their full selves and was respectful of each and every person's identity because I think that's important, especially as a Black woman. So yeah, those are the things I hope they believe that I gave them, I increased their capacity in some sense and gave what I had to give, so 10 years. I have 10 years to do it, right?



Alumni Conversation Series: Molly Harris

Molly Harris is a 2015, Greater New Orleans - Louisiana Delta corps member.  Molly is one of our 2022 alumni award winners. 

I was very excited, honestly, a little shocked. I was nominated to apply for the awards. So I applied and I was hoping obviously to be considered, but I am just incredibly grateful and was very, very excited to hear the news. Honestly, I didn't think I was going to be a teacher. I worked at a public defender's office in college and worked with a lot of youth and did a lot of school visits, home visits, and recognized through that experience the impact that teachers have, which led me to apply, to Teach For America. And I taught in New Orleans for two years before continuing to teach for the past five years in Chicago, and honestly fell in love with teaching. Loved kids, love teaching, loved the discussions. Started, honestly, because I saw major issues within our criminal justice system and saw that by creating change in classrooms and providing students with opportunities to use their voices and amplifying student voices, we would be able to create larger change within our communities.

And I am continuously inspired by my students every single day. I get a ton of energy from teaching and it's honestly what I love and couldn't be happier to spend that time with my students. When I think about some of the greatest classes I've ever had, they actually involve me speaking very little if at all. My goal is to create a student led classroom, where students are talking about issues that they care about, analyzing different perspectives on the issues, representing different stakeholders and sharing their ideas of how we can come up with solutions for our society. Students recently did a project where they picked an issue within society and we talked about the meaning of activism and talked about community organizers. And my sixth graders came up, they made different presentations and presented a very special moment. And I believe I included this video in my application was when one student was talking about the murder of George Floyd and basically ran about a 10, 15 minute class where he was sharing his perspective, calling on other students to share their perspectives, critiquing the systems that we have in place in our society.

And thinking about what we can do now as sixth graders and later as high schoolers and then college graduates, and then later on, policy makers or future presidents, how we can begin to create change within our communities. And my real goal and my real vision is that I hope to see some of my students being these policy makers and social leaders and educators that are the ones that are driving change within their own communities and our society. Honestly, something I think about is I am tough on my students. I expect a lot from them. I push them to be the best versions of their selves, and I know they know that and they believe that. I hope that in 10 years from now, when I see my students and a lot of them come back and visit now, they feel like they're reaching their highest potential.

And they remember the importance and the value of their voice. I want them to believe in the power of their opinions and perspectives to create change in our world. I want them to not be afraid to step up to a podium in front of 500, thousands of people and share their ideas and their critiques and their beliefs. I push them in my sixth grade classroom. I have every single kid get up to the podium at some point. So I really do that to remind them that you did this when you were 11, 12, 13 years old in front of a group of 30 students. When you are running for mayor of the city and doing this in front of hundreds of thousands of people, there's nothing to be afraid of because you did it in miss Harris's sixth grade class. So I hope that they ultimately remember the importance in what they believe and their voice and what they have to say.