An Outsider’s Experience at YES Prep Houston
Jessica Rosati, a teacher at Prestige Academy Charter School in Wilmington, Delaware, contributed this guest blog post.
YES (which stands for Youth Engaged in Service) Prep Public Schools is a network of public, open-enrollment charter schools located all throughout Greater Houston. The YES program is designed to prepare every student in grades 6-12 for college. YES graduated its first senior class in 2001, and since then has sent 100 percent of its graduating seniors to four-year colleges. YES Prep won the 2012 Broad Prize worth $250,000 for its success in educating poor, minority students.
When I had the opportunity to go on a visit to YES Prep Houston, I jumped at the chance… quite literally. I leapt out of my chair and down the hall to plead my case with my principal, Jack Perry, and begged with justified reasons of why I would love to attend this trip. Unlike the majority of my fellow Delawareans in education, I have not only heard of YES Prep, but I consider myself a huge YES advocate. I completed a Teach For America corps experience, plus and additional year in Houston, Texas, and my ultimate goal was to get my fifth-graders to attend YES Prep middle schools. I would hound parents, set up school visits, and urge my students to apply as early as possible to ensure that they would continue receiving the excellent, college-bound education that YES middle and high schools could offer. I knew I had to take advantage of this opportunity to visit YES, not only to hopefully see one of my former students (I spotted three!), but also to discuss strategies and ideas that YES uses to improve their staff culture.
I traveled to Houston to meet with Yes Prep teachers and decision-makers, alongside Jack and my fellow Prestige Academy teacher Lee Strawbridge. The trip was extremely well organized and purposeful, and the candid approach that YES leaders and teachers took with us visitors was much appreciated. The highly-organized structure of YES definitely mirrored that of Prestige, and I found myself taking mobile pictures of wall hangings, and great classroom ideas that I could utilize in my own room! However, the most promising and admirable practice I witnessed during those two days came from the leadership team; most notably Jason Bernal and Jennifer Hines, and the consistent decisions they made with YES teachers’ happiness and well-being first in mind.
Although my opinion may be biased due to my profession as a classroom teacher, I respect school leaders and institutions like YES that put teachers first, truly first, even behind the scenes. YES leaders shared that they were genuinely concerned a few years ago with their high turnover of teachers and vowed to improve retention by implementing new ideas such shortening school days, cutting back on Saturday school, and allowing for salary increases based on performance.
I am proud of YES for taking a step back, and realizing that effective, veteran teachers are the key to student achievement. One director shared that it is very tempting to use funds for fancy new computers, or a brand new sparkling facility. I do not envy these fantastic leaders who need to make difficult decisions about budget and where to concentrate funds in a school, but I commend them for the research and open conversations that took place in regards to advocating for teacher happiness. It is my hope that all schools in Delaware come to that same realization that YES seems to have met, and are able to focus the majority of resources to hiring and retaining superb teachers.
I’m thankful for this incredible opportunity, particularly for YES inviting this inquisitive and insightful group from the humble state of Delaware. We took back a great deal of knowledge and inspiration from our visit, and we wish you all the best. Is there a remarkable teacher behind every student who succeeds, and should that remarkable teacher be recognized? The answer is Yes.