July 31, 2015 12:54 Age: 2 yrs

Diversity & Inclusiveness Matters: A DSO’s Story

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Shirley Harrell is the director of school operations at Elm City College Prep Elementary.

One of the great things about Achievement First is that each of us brings something different to the table. Before I joined the Elm City College Prep “Team & Family” in 2008, I worked in a law firm, as a juvenile defender; I represented kids. All the time, I felt like I was coming into their stories when something was already broken. There were always issues that seemed to go back to gaps in these kids’ education. I knew a few people who worked at Achievement First, and so I started to look at operations positions to see if there was a way that I could help provide kids with an excellent education, and be a part of fixing what I saw.

When I came to Elm City College Prep Elementary, right away, what struck me was knowing that there was always someone who had your back, and there was a structure in place to support you in and out of school. Since the teachers and staff have such great support, we’re better able to support our students.

I’m a mother of four, and I think of my students as my “extended” children. I call them my babies. I approach them as I would my own kids—from a place of wanting to get to the bottom of whatever problem there is and help them solve it. All it takes is a word of correction delivered with a smile or a hug for them to realize that you care and want them to succeed. I’m so proud to be able to give back in this way to my school and help create a space where the students and their families feel like they belong.

It definitely took some time for me to come to a happy medium to balance my family life and my job. Now, I work intentionally.  And just as I am here for my students, I am always available for my family and for family events, like my son’s basketball games.

All of us at AF come from different backgrounds, and that is what makes us a strong team. We also have different interests. I like writing and poetry, and last year I wrote a children’s book called “Big Game’s Tourney,” which we celebrated together at the school.

In addition to my regular responsibilities, I’ve led trainings on “Diversity & Inclusiveness” for our staff. It’s so important to me to work in an environment where we can recognize and embrace that we all have unique abilities and talents to contribute. This intentional focus really benefits those who would not otherwise feel seen or heard. Sometimes, I think about how I could’ve been disregarded in other jobs because of assumptions others might make about me. That doesn’t happen at AF.

Validating and welcoming everyone to our “Team & Family” is something that I love about working at AF, and something that carries forth to our students, families, and communities.







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