Interview with Alexandria Osei-Amoako, Dean of Equity and Belonging
We look forward to welcoming Alexandria Osei-Amoako to College Prep this summer!
Having received her BA and MA from Sarah Lawrence College, Alexandria Osei-Amoako has worked with students of all ages in diverse educational settings, including Teach for America, KIPP DC: Promise Academy, and, most recently, High Tech High Elementary Mesa in San Diego. A self-described lifelong activist and learner, Alexandra has worked for more than a decade to help schools institutionalize equitable practices. She shares that her driving question is, “How can we utilize collective thought, power, strength, and diversity in order to re-envision institutions of power and privilege?”
Q: What interested you about a career in education?
A: Both of my parents were educators; my dad was a kindergarten teacher and my mom taught Montessori, so I felt like I was destined to be in the classroom. I knew early on that I wanted to go into teaching and I got the opportunity through Teach for America. I had just graduated with my Master's in Women's History, and I wanted to focus on teaching history at a high school level. However, Teach for America was pioneering their early childhood placement in Metro Atlanta and that’s where I was placed. Teaching early childhood, which was the opposite of what I thought I wanted at the time, ended up being just the right setting for me. I really thrived being able to teach and understand people from their earliest academic moments. It taught me a lot about the foundations of learning and the joy in it.
Q: What inspired you to make the shift from teaching to administrative work?
A: Teachers know that their classroom isn't a bubble. A lot of decisions that affect your classroom come from administration, parents, policies, or other outside sources. After Teach for America and my early childhood experience, I moved to New York where I taught at a charter school for a couple of years. In this setting I was a Black teacher teaching all Black and brown students with a mostly white teaching and administrative staff. As a teacher, I sought to find a balance between academic rigor and the joy of learning and discovery. However, there was a lot of conflict about what I should prioritize in my classroom. I was told to focus strictly on academic achievement as my students were already starting at a “disadvantage” because of their background. This deficit thinking is widespread in schools that serve low-income students of color. It is why many adopt a “no-excuses” disciplinary model. Because of this experience I knew I wanted to work with my fellow teachers and administration to uncover biases that make schools adopt destructive practices. Enforcing strict and militaristic disciplinary policies that micromanage student, teacher, and parent behavior perpetuates a false sense of urgency that pushes academic achievement over personal development. I worked with Trinity Thompson at the time (former Director of Experiential and Community Based Learning at College Prep), and seeing this, we created a committee for the school to hold space for our work around identity development and created anti-racist/anti-bias staff development and curriculum. From that success, I went on to become a Director of Programs for Teach for America, which allowed me to do the same work with new teachers and school leaders. In that work I was able to coach teachers around diversity, equity and inclusion which allowed them to engage with students in a way that is authentic and meaningful.
Q: Tell us about the work that you’ve done most recently with High Tech Elementary Mesa in San Diego.
A: I really love the work that I have been doing at High Tech Elementary Mesa. This is a founding school in our second year. The school is project-based and focused on being truly equitable and accessible to all of our students. I've been lucky to work with teachers in our school and across the network to lead and create spaces for open and candid conversations with parents, students, and staff. I find a lot of joy in thinking about how I can maximize students’ well-being in and out of the classroom. I also find a lot of fulfillment in working with adults and being a resource for people in their identity development.
Q: What is it that drew you to College Prep and a high school community like this?
A: I feel that College Prep is in such a beautiful transition as a school. Your students have demanded certain changes take place and are asking for you to look at yourselves as a community. What really drew me was that you all are open to doing that work. I think that's such a rare thing in our educational system, to have an organization see themselves and then be open to change, restructure, and establish practices that will really benefit students. To say, "This is where we're at. These are the challenges that we are having. This is what the students are asking along with the alumni, parents, community members, and staff. This is what we've been tasked with." I was really drawn to be a part of that and to be a resource in the midst of that change.
Q: Can you tell us an interesting fact or two about yourself?
A: Joining College Prep has made me reflect on my own high school experience. I am from Georgia and when I was in middle school there were public high schools that we could apply to that were called magnet schools. These schools were some of the best in the county and traditionally placed in higher income white neighborhoods. This Magnet program allowed students like me to be able to access them as an alternative to my lower income neighborhood school. I applied, auditioned, and was able to attend a performing arts high school. I studied media and set design. It sparked my love of theater and my appreciation for people being their most authentic selves. A current fact about me is that I am a mom. I have a three-year-old daughter and a two-month-old son, so that's really what's bringing me joy now.