Chief of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion DeWayne Street invited Paulette Jones, the dean of instruction at Glenn High School, to speak about the focus on equitable access and students’ opportunities to take advanced classes and AP courses.
This On the Street: A #1LISD Journey podcast series serves as an opportunity to continue the conversation around educational access and to highlight our efforts around increasing cultural competency for Leander ISD staff. Our work is about bringing people into the conversation.
Episode 3 – Equitable Access with Paulette Jones
DeWayne asks Paulette to share a little bit about herself and what led her to become and educator (01:15). Later, DeWayne and Paulette have a conversation centered around:
- The Role of Enhancing Educational Access (05:03)
- The Importance of Enhancing Educational Access (09:49)
- Advice for Signing Up for Advanced Courses (13:33)
- A Rewarding Experience as a Dean of Instruction (16:38)
Below, you will find a transcript of the episode.
This month, the Office of DEI would like to focus on access as it pertains to advanced classes and AP courses.
With this being the case, I’ve invited one of the people most responsible for working with students to achieve this, one of our terrific and impactful deans of instruction, Paulette Jones.
Paulette works in the Glenn feeder pattern and has been with LISD for three years. Please join me in welcoming Paulette to our podcast.
Thank you, Mr. Street. I appreciate the opportunity to be here.
No, it’s an honor for us to interview you. I’ve been a fan of your practice for a while, so having an opportunity to sit down and dialog with you and to learn more about what you do and how it benefits access for all students — I couldn’t wait to have the conversation.
So we have a few questions that we like to use as some guardrails for our conversation today. But please feel free to add anything that you’re comfortable sharing. I want people to know about your work and all the good things that are happening throughout our district to enhance access for all students.
About Paulette and Becoming an Educator?
So our first question is, can you tell us a little bit about you and why you wanted to be an educator?
And then a follow up, who inspired you when you were a student?
Okay. So I am the dean of instruction here at Glenn High School. This is my 15th year in education and three years here in Leander ISD.
The reason I wanted to become an educator was because I had a seventh-grade English teacher who saw me, right? I was the shy kid in class, but she always made sure that she engaged me in the learning. She checked in on me. And so I thought, You know what? I want to be that person for other kids.
Let me double back on something. So when you could you said that she saw you. Would you expound another little bit?
Yes. And so as a student in the classroom, I was really shy. I was very academic, but not necessarily the student who would engage and want to share responses and things of that nature.
And so she had a way of coming over and asking me …
And pulling it out of you.
And why were you so shy?
I think because I’m the oldest of four, and I’ve always been in that position where there were really high expectations. And so part of my shyness was not wanting to fail.
And so I would be very intentional about when I engaged or how I engaged. And I really depended on my teachers and my parents to talk to me to bring it out and reaffirm that, yes, what you’re thinking or what you’re doing, it’s right. It’s OK.
You know, I met with a group of students, part of the access program at Glenn and Vandegrift
and at Vista Ridge and Cedar Park, and one of the things that we talked about was – and these are all young people of color for the most part – but we talked about the fear that comes along with success for some students who come from historically underserved populations.
There’s this notion that if you try and fail, then you confirm some of the negative stereotypes that people may have about you. Was that part of your experience?
I would say it was. It was a situation where I knew that I could do well academically, right? I knew I had potential. But it was that fear.
What if I can’t be successful?
What if I’m not successful?
So that allows a hindrance and not trying, right? Not wanting to engage. And when I think about the fact of just being the first person in my family to go to college, right? I wanted very much so for my parents to be proud of me, but that was a large undertaking.
That’s a lot to carry.
Because my sister and I, we were first-generation college, and I do understand the the pressure that comes with that because there’s so many things you don’t know and you’re afraid to misstep, but you’re carrying the expectations of all those who come before you from a family standpoint, and they’re looking at you and you’re unsure.
And I think that translates into what some of our students experience when they think about taking AP courses or taking advanced courses. You know, I don’t want to let anyone down.
And I think part of our focus on access is to let them know that “Try. We got you.” OK, we have people like you who are here to make sure that we give you everything you need to be successful so that we can damp down some of that fear.
Yeah, I would agree with that. In my role, when I’m having conversations with my counselors and with parents, it’s “Just try.” Pick one content area that you really love and enjoy, and try that in an academic course.
And then there is this safety net, right? We’re here to provide tutorials to support you in any way that we can. We just need you to try, because if you never try, you don’t know.
Exactly. And it can open up a whole other world, which I want to get to in a minute.
The Role of Enhancing Educational Access for All Students
I want to move on to our second question, and you kind of addressed this, and I want us to expound on it: Please discuss the things that your role does to enhance educational access for all students. And what are some of the challenges that you have encountered and how have you overcome them in this pursuit?
And so in my role, I am in a unique place because I get to collaborate with lots of stakeholders, whether it is my teachers, the counselors, the community. And so that’s really important because I feel like in order for everyone to truly understand, we have to be able to communicate, right?
Parents have to be made aware these are the opportunities for your kids. And when working with my counselors, we are very intentional when we’re doing our master schedule and we’re looking at our course enrollment – who are the kids in these courses, right?
How can we ensure that every kid that wants to try this is, they have that option. We make sure that our teachers, before we do course selection, they go around to each of our classrooms and they kind of talk about those advanced courses and expectations and challenges and what the coursework is like.
And for me personally, I think that we hear the word “advanced courses,” “AP courses,” and immediately kids are like, “Oh, that’s too hard,” right?
Or it’s not for me
Or it’s not for me. Exactly.
And so just being intentional as well about the teachers we put in those classrooms, because those teachers need to understand while the courses are more rigorous, we want to provide instruction at a level that challenges students, but not frustrates students. And that’s really important.
So there’s a collaboration with my teachers, with my counselors, and also the district level Teaching and Learning team. And we have meetings where we discuss curriculum and we’re intentional about “Do our students see themselves in this curriculum? Is this curriculum going to be rigorous enough to support our kids in advanced academics, AP courses, and beyond?”
Because when you think about the AP courses that we offer, parents are under the impression that this is equivalent to a college course. So are we doing the work in our classrooms to ensure that our kids are going to be prepared when they go to college?
You know, I think that’s wonderful. It’s about meeting those expectations. And there’s something else
you said, too, Paulette: A lot of parents, and you and I, we were talking before when I got here today, you know, being first-generation, there were a lot of things, I think you share the story about your mother would ask you to make sure you covered certain questions with your counselor because she didn’t have the answers.
I think for a lot of our families who come from historically underserved populations, providing that information is so important because it goes back to the exposure piece. You know, a lot of times
young people don’t even think that this is something for them.
But if we can share this information with the parents, answer all their questions. The parents can be that bridge from the student having this on their radar to the student actually taking the course.
Right. And we address that. We have our advanced academics night. We have our blueprint night. And those are events where parents can come in and they learn about the different courses that we offer and they can have one-on-one time with me or they can speak to students, counselors, because I think another major hindrance is the fact that our parents, our communities, they just aren’t aware.
They don’t know what questions to ask, they don’t know what opportunities are available. Some of them don’t even know who to contact for the information. And so we have been intentional at Glenn
in trying to make sure that we communicate with the community and our stakeholders so that all of our kids and their families are aware, “hey, these great opportunities are available to you.”
And I think there, you know, you also bring up another point, which is why I spend a lot of time talking about cultural competency for educators. And it seems like by going out to the classes and being intentional about talking to the teachers about who’s not enrolling in these courses, you’re furthering that.
But I also think cultural competency is extended to the parents as well. A lot of parents come into school sometimes and they feel intimidated, and sometimes they do know which questions to ask, but they don’t want to ask those because they fear being judged. And when you talk about historically underserved populations, that judgment piece is one that turns people off.
So it sounds like you all are doing a really good job of trying to overcome that so that everyone feels valued and respected when they show up here. And if they have questions, give them the answer.
Absolutely. And we’re available whether they’re talking to me or the counselors, even our APs get involved sometimes. And so definitely being able to have that open line of communication so that our families are aware of the opportunities we have, I think is definitely a step in the right direction.
It can be transformational. So I applaud the work that you all are doing.
The Importance of Enhancing Educational Access
So I’d like to move on to our third question. It kind of ties into what we’ve been talking about, in your opinion, why is enhancing educational access, important for historically underserved students? You know, with an emphasis on children of color, those who are receiving special education services, females and economically disadvantaged, as some examples of those groups.
It is very important that we enhance that access because they’re going to need those skills when they enter the world. We live in a world that is very diverse, and if our kiddos haven’t been exposed to that or had an opportunity to engage others that had different perspectives or differences in cultures or whatever it may be, we’re really setting them up for failure if we don’t provide those opportunities for them.
And so I think it’s very important, whether it is our kiddos that have special needs or our female students, all of our kids need to be able to engage with different types of people, right, so that they can engage in the world.
And I think in advanced classes, due to the curriculum, it’s different, because the literature that they’re exposed to has a more worldly view. The mathematics that they’re exposed to really encourages critical thinking.
And so being in those advanced courses just give our kids just another opportunity to really engage
in a world that they will be engaging in once they leave us.
And I love that because, you know, I’ve been privileged to work with the AP-DOI group, which you’re part of, and one of the things that we talked about is that our job is to prepare young people for the world that they will inherit.
And it sounds like you’re aligning with that as well, because the world that they will inherit will look completely different from the world that we as adults are navigating.
So how do we provide them with the skills to make sure that they can be successful there and then go on to create the world that they want? Right?
Yeah. So I love that, because in the end, we want to transfer the ownership to the next generation.
Absolutely. And I think just that exposure to advanced courses will help those kiddos change the next generation. They will learn to be more inclusive because they’ve had opportunities in our advanced courses to be able to engage people of differences and perspective and have those, I would say not controlled conversations, but guided conversations, a safe conversation.
Because sometimes when they get into the world and they’re not familiar with what’s going on, they could step into a situation that they’ve never been in before and so they don’t know how to navigate.
But in advanced courses – and I just, I think on our campus in general, right? Or in Leander ISD – we do a really good job in making sure that there’s diversity in everything that we do, whether it is hiring our staff, the people that are in leadership roles. Because Leander ISD looks like the world they will transfer into.
It has truly become an international destination.
And and I love what you said about the focus on preparing them to have those conversations
that could be mature and a bit – not problematic, but complex as they leave us, right?
And so I think it’s important that we do that because we’re helping them fill out any blindspots that they may have, which will make them more successful as they go forward.
Yes, I agree.
You know, my first, I remember my first advanced course in high school. You being an English teacher, you can appreciate this. I took a class called British Authors where I read The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. That’s the extent of my knowledge of that.
That was a tough read.
I still remember my teacher, though: Mrs. Carol Orlandi.
Yeah, she … Canterbury Tales.
So sometime on the back side of this, I have to pick your brain about what you should have learned.
Okay. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Advice for Signing Up for Advanced Courses
So moving on to our next question.
As we enter course-selection season for students, what advice would you give them in their families
regarding signing up for advanced courses and what should they know about the possible benefits along with any challenges as they consider AP courses or advanced courses?
I know you kind of talked about this, but is there anything else that you want to just make sure
that people know – family and students?
Definitely encourage kids to try at least one course, definitely. Choose the course that they really enjoy. So if they enjoy history, take an AP history course. If it’s literature …
I’m all about the history.’
I know you are, Mr. Street.
Yes. To do that. And then just to be open to ask questions, right? And consider the fact that if a student is going to try an advanced course, now is the time to do it. It is in high school where you have all of the supports from your teachers, from your counselors, and if any time to fail forward, it is now.
And so definitely encourage their kids to at least try, right?
Now, the challenges and the expectations, taking an AP or an advanced course is going to challenge kids. But we want our kids to know that being challenged is a good thing, right? Because if we aren’t challenged, we don’t grow. And so definitely being able to do that, and it’s okay to be challenged and it’s okay to fail sometimes, because that is also how we learn.
No, I agree. I think that’s really good advice, because the times of maximum growth for me over my academic career, and even my professional career, have been those times when I’ve been most challenged.
You know, where you have to start looking at things in a more dialectical way and also drawing on the strengths that you bring to the equation, because that’s also something that young people can benefit from by taking AP courses or advanced courses.
It illuminates the strengths that you already have. And so I think it’s important for them to know that as well.
No, I agree. And like I said, it’s just a matter of the parents knowing what questions to ask and being familiar with all the opportunities because sometimes the opportunities we don’t take are the ones we just don’t know about.
And so making sure that they’re informed in — there again, knowing that we are in an environment,
or their students are in an environment where they will be supported.
So if you’re going to fail, now would be the time to do that versus waiting until we move on to college or some type of vocational certification and then they experience failing, because that’s not good.
Because now we have all of the supports, not only if you fail, but to help you get back up.
We have all of those supports.
And to me, access is all about challenging young people and showing them who they can be and ways that sometimes they wouldn’t see themselves. And so that’s why I love the focus around advanced courses, AP courses, and I love the role of the dean of instruction.
And I’m looking at your magic wall here with all, and this is the master schedule. I know our listeners can’t see it, but let me just share, it is very impressive and a lot of moving parts.
A Rewarding Experience as a Dean of Instruction
So as we conclude, is there anything else that you would like to share about your role and about your journey to this point and about the importance of enhancing the access for all students?
And so I would like to share, considering where I’ve come from, being in this role has been really rewarding because I understand the perspective of those kids and who may not necessarily always had access.
And I also understand what it means to have access, because I’m sitting here doing this job and helping other kids to be successful.
And I would always encourage a kid: “Just try. Try an advanced course.” If you failed this one or you don’t like this one, there’s 20 others you can try and be successful at.
And I would also encourage our parents to know that we’re here to support kids, and any questions you may have, please come to us and the opportunity is there. We just need to take those opportunities.
And I could not agree more and I just want to say it has been truly a privilege to talk with you today and to learn about your role.
And we’re so fortunate that you decided to come to Leander ISD. Our students are better off and we’re better off for having you practice here.
Thank you. I appreciate it.