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|An Interview With Kate Mehok
Was the SB culture similar to any other school environment in which you had worked
With regards to teaching and learning to teach I had just been through that with Teach For America.
I also had degree in political science from Haverford College and had done the prerequisite student
teaching for certification to teach social studies. It was similar in the sense of knowing the struggles
that people go through when they are trying to learn to teach, and all the mistakes you make in terms
of classroom management. But in terms of training new teachers that was all new to me. As Dean of
Faculty I supervised the mentor teachers and supported the high school and college students
learning to teach.
Did you have prior experience with a multicultural group as diverse as the
My middle school students in Baltimore were mostly from the surrounding housing projects, mostly
African Americans. When I came to Newman the students were again mostly African American, with
some Hispanic and Asian kids. I would say that their academic preparation was surprisingly even
worse than my students in Baltimore.
You are now an assistant principal supervising adult teachers, how would you compare
this with training SB student teachers?
I think it was easier to work with high school and college age teachers than it sometimes is to work
with adults because at Summerbridge it was very clear that I was the expert, for better or for worse.
They were the learners and were going to make mistakes and I was the trainer--giving feed back came
easily for me. I always felt very comfortable in my role helping and guiding them and I very much
enjoyed it. My second year was wonderful. I had a lot of interesting situations happen and I felt like I
dealt with them pretty well. I did a pretty good job of mixing the respect you have to give high school
and college teachers --giving them the freedom they needed, and on the other hand being able to say
to someone, “you are not teaching well,” and give them the help they needed. Adults have more fixed
patterns and I am 29 now, most of the teachers in my current school are about my age, we started at
the new school at the same time, and with my role as assistant principal, the authority seemed less
clear. There were definitely some issues for me trying to find my voice and my role. Now, in my second
year I have a greater sense of confidence and legitimacy.
Do you have a sense of skills that you learned specifically from your Summerbridge
Yes, definitely, with regards to observation of teachers. Being able to observe every single day I
started to script lessons, writing down every thing that happen to give them feedback. I would sit
down with every single teachers and talk to them about the observations. This experience put me way
ahead of every one else in grad school. Most people who went to grad school for administration had
never done that before and I had done it so many times. Secondly, in SB you have to do curriculum
on all four subject areas. You have to be able to talk intelligently about math, science, English, and
social studies. I wrote down the standards for the summer for all the grade levels and I investigated
them. I sat down with teachers at Newman and asked them about what they were doing and what we
should be doing across all four subject areas and that made me very comfortable with middle school
curriculum. Now, as an assistant principal I can walk into a science classroom having taught
science, and reading, etc. That is why the Summerbridge experience was so valuable for me, to have
the chance to spend two years immersed in curriculum. The opportunity to manage people at such a
young age, not that I do it perfectly well now, I don’t, I make lots of mistakes, but having had that
experience in a safer environment gave me good preparation.
It was also great leadership experience. My first year of Summerbridge our director, Aimee Eubanks
was fabulous, she would sit down with me and tell me things that I had done well and things that I
needed to work on and she gave me a lot of really good feedback that first year. The chance to
practice, make mistakes, and learn, was invaluable.
I am interested in your views on the quality of learning that took place at Summerbridge, from the
standpoint of both the students and the teachers.
Summerbridge is incredibly life changing for the teachers. Watching the Newman community
embrace the program in the two years that I was there was amazing. Privileged kids, mostly white,
who had never interacted with the students who were poor and black-- I watched those relationships
change and grow and because of that experience they will never be the same. That alone was
invaluable. We did a really good job of showing our teachers what real teaching was like-- the
demanding hours and the hard work of preparing and teaching to six weeks of lesson plans.
Sometime I was amazed by what sixteen and seventeen year-olds could do in the classroom, how
much they were able to handle. They could work fifteen hour days for six weeks. It was such a great
learning experience and many of them have gone into education and I keep waiting for them to get a
few more years of experience so I can hire them at my school.
One of the reasons that I left the program was because I felt that despite the fact that Summerbridge
is a great organization and people work very hard, you can’t do a whole lot for kids with only after-
school and summers. I wanted to have my own school and have influence on students all day—we try
and do Summerbridge on an everyday basis here. Because students left after six weeks to go to their
own schools it felt like putting a band-aid on the situation. Gains were made but not enough. I think
students definitely were learning, especially social skills, but I don’t think we had enough time with
them to make a huge impact.
How did you find your current job?
I had gone to Teachers College to get a degree in administration because I wanted to do full time
administration with kids that I would have every day. When I was finishing up that degree I was
thinking I would probably end up as an assistant principal in New York City because I had made
some pretty good contacts and I was pretty excited about some of the changes that were going on.
When I started looking around for jobs there was a posting on the Teach for America website for this
position, helping to found a school. I would be in charge of teaching and learning which is what I
really was doing in New Orleans and what I would not be doing much of as an assistant principal in
NYC because what you get is a lot of paper work with not as much of a chance to do instructional
leadership. I met with the principal for several hours, thought she had a really good vision for a
school, and she was willing to give me the chance to have leadership in the building too. And, the
chance to start a school was pretty exciting. The school is a KIPP STAR College Prep Charter [middle]
School. What is unique about the school are the long hours--kids are in school from 7-5 and on
Saturdays, and there is also an emphasis on discipline and high expectations for all students. There
are now 30 KIPP schools across the nation.