March Person of the Month: Kate Finley
Kate Finley is the Managing Director of Elementary Schools for KIPP DC. Kate is responsible for the 5 KIPP DC elementary schools, including one of Turnaround for Children’s deep-dive partners, Quest Academy. Kate was nominated by Partnership Director, Gretchen Livesey, who describes Kate as, “an incredible partner and collaborator with Turnaround who has incredible influence over how Turnaround’s work gets taken up across the KIPP DC system.”
THE 180: Could you start off by telling us a little bit about your role?
KATE FINLEY: I’m a pretty primary thought partner for principals – we work on regional goals that are both quantitative and qualitative, as well as developing individual school goals and culture. My most important job is to support our principals and the work that they do; everything from long-term planning, data analysis, hiring, professional development, coaching, student behavior, family interactions and goal setting, to sitting in their office to help cover while they meet with their vice principals, to going to their Black History Month celebration and clapping for the kids.
THE 180: Partnering with five schools and five principals is a lot; how do you divide your time?
KATE FINLEY: I make it a priority to see each of them every week. I normally end up in each school one day a week or a half-day. Sometimes that’s to go into classrooms and do observations, sometimes to meet about logistical things, sometimes it’s a part of other work that they’re doing with their vice principals. Basically, I’m at headquarters on Monday and in schools the rest of the week. I leave Fridays unscheduled, so I can circle back with a school based on what’s happening at the moment.
THE 180: Did you always know you wanted to work in education?
KATE FINLEY: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a teacher. I loved school a lot as a kid – I loved reading, I loved learning. I set up a little school in my basement and taught my little brother and sister against their will. When I got to college – I’ve always loved kids, but when I started doing internships in schools in Philadelphia, I truly realized how disparate the experiences were for kids in public education. And so then it also became about [equity].
THE 180: A lot of times professional development translates into one-off sessions. What has it been like to build a collaborative partnership with Turnaround?
KATE FINLEY: It’s been great. I don’t think our folks respond to one-off professional development and I don’t like giving it. I think it’s either we’re going to set a bar, work to reach it and support you along the way with a lot of development, or we just shouldn’t set the bar. And I think what our partnership has done, is said, “Here’s the bar,” and now this is how we’re going to try to support you to get there. It’s been really nice. There’s been growing pains – Turnaround’s doing something with us that they haven’t done before – but we’re in constant communication which I think helps. We’re a little bit building a plane as we fly it, but we do that a lot here because we want to be responsive and innovative.
THE 180: One of the interesting things about the relationship between Turnaround and KIPP DC is that there are so many levels. We partner with KIPP DC individual schools, work with all principals, then your leadership. Are there examples of work at the leadership level that have informed the individual school work or vise-versa?
KATE FINLEY: Everything that we’re doing with the Tier 2 and 3 [student support] work right now has been informed by the deep dive schools because we’ve gotten to see it play out there first. They sort of act as the guinea pigs, and we’ve been able to use case study examples of their kids. We’re able to use things they’ve thought through, how they’ve rolled it out to their staff and set up systems to inform the deeper level with Gretchen. All of this informs what we put in front of other principals.
THE 180: Can you talk a bit more about Tier 2 and Tier 3 interventions?
KATE FINLEY: We’ve done two professional development sessions for leaders around Tier 2, starting with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support – how do interventions fit inside that system and what does it look like? Then we did trainings on it with vice principals and social workers to get processes started, like Kid Talk. We had each school set a June goal – a bare minimum of trying it out, or a maximum, like Quest Academy, which is rolling Kid Talk out at every grade level because they feel ready. Most of my other elementary schools are rolling it out at one grade level or piloting a few meetings. Our leaders need to choose how to do that based on what they know is best for their school right now.
We just started training on Tier 3. The expectation is that for next year, schools are using these systems with their teachers. And if it goes well for elementary schools, we can work with other schools. Generally, the approach is start small, do well at it, then really roll it out.
THE 180: What are you excited for about the future of the partnership?
KATE FINLEY: I’m looking forward to seeing how principals start their year next year based on some of the uncovering we’ve had in the Tier 1 space – how that informs our regional professional development and then how that informs their school decisions. And then, I’m really eager for us to be in a better place with our tier two and Tier 3 systems.
THE 180: What do you think is the most important thing that students need to succeed?
KATE FINLEY: A sense of belonging. If you walk into a place every day and it doesn’t feel like you belong there, that there’s not somebody there that loves you, then it’s really, really hard to set yourself up to learn and grow. I mean, I feel that way about coming to work. There’s a lot of brain science behind that. I think that our kids who are thriving feel loved and like they belong at school. And I think the ones that don’t feel that sense of belonging – it’s not necessarily the reason that they aren’t thriving, but it could be part of it.