By Taroue Brooks
What inspired you to start DELTA STEAM Academy?
DSA was born out of my strong desire to ensure that children who look like me have the same opportunities available to them that I did growing up regardless of their zip code. African Americans make up only about 6% of the STEM career fields. I deeply believe that exposure is key to our students pursuing these career paths and thereby diversifying them. Starting as early as kindergarten with this exposure removes the fear factor, increases confidence, and demonstrates what is possible for them when they are older. As a Biomedical Engineer by trade, I understand firsthand how critical my elementary and secondary schooling was in my preparation to pursue and complete two engineering degrees at the Bachelors and Master’s levels.
What do you find to be the biggest challenge within the educational system?
In my opinion, the largest challenge we face in education is having adequate ways and means to support the whole child in an increasingly high stakes testing environment. I believe that we have to be able to serve every child that crosses our threshold and there are grave disparities in schools’ ability to do this well, largely based on socio-economic and demographic differences. Students in resource-deprived areas need to have the highest qualified teachers and this is often not the case.
What inspires you to show up to work every day?
Knowing that each day is another opportunity to teach a child the importance of loving him/herself and that all of their dreams are possible if they believe in themselves and work hard.
Who or what motivates you and why?
I am motivated by this particular quote by President Barack Obama: “CHANGE will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. WE are the ones we have been waiting for. WE are the ones we seek.” I am an adamant believer in purpose and destiny intertwining. I have been called to do this work and thus am motivated daily to give it my very best.
How did you determine your career path?
Education was always “in my blood” so to speak. However, I felt that in a lineage of educators, it was important for me to expand my horizons and make some money first. After practicing as a biomedical engineer for 5 years, I joined Teach For America in 2006. Since that time, I have had the privilege to teach middle and high school mathematics, train and coach teachers, serve as assistant principal and principal of great schools, and finally culminate with coaching aspiring and sitting principals throughout the country.
What has been the most challenging aspect of starting your school?
School choice is still a fairly new concept to Douglas County. That said, our greatest challenge has been thinking of creative way to reach parents and families, especially in light of COVID-19. We have really had to stretch ourselves and our own perseverance to ensure that parents are aware of their options and what we have to offer.
What advice would you offer to others who have a desire to start a school?
Starting a school requires clear vision, proper preparation, and solid planning. It is not something you can wake up and say “you know, I think I want to start a school.” It takes lots of preparation and is not for the faint of heart. You need to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what you want to do because the level of commitment and discipline required just to get through the approval process is significant. An entrepreneurial spirit cannot be undervalued in this role, as you will navigate many unknowns and your resolve will be tested in ways that you likely have not been tested before.
Why is it important for women of color to lead and/or work in leadership roles and decision making capacities?
As a woman of color in leadership, I bring a different perspective to the table and to any work that I am doing. I believe that women of color contribute significantly to “outside of the box” thinking that many companies need, as we have had to overcome many obstacles, often more than the average person, to get to the same professional ladder rung. We demonstrate to our children of color what is possible for them and we pave the way for them to follow in our footsteps. If you could change one thing about the world what would it be? I would want every person to see another person as his/her equal. When we see each other in this light, we treat each other better, we work together, and we succeed more than we could ever as individuals.
About Nikki Grier
Nikki is an Atlanta native and career changer from Engineering to Education. Upon receiving her undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, she pursued her Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of TN, Knoxville. Her thesis work there on creating an electrical device that would regenerate bone led her to become a Lead Research Specialist at Emory University. While at Emory, Nikki practiced biomedical engineering for five years conducting research on how electrical stimulation could allow persons who had experienced brain injuries to use their leg muscles again to walk. She answered her call to teach in 2006 via Teach For America and has since been on a path to eradicating educational inequities for children of color. Nikki taught in the counties we hope to serve at Westlake High School and Lindley Middle School. She has been a high school and middle school Principal in large urban districts in the country including Chicago and Memphis. Most recently, she served as a Leadership Coach to aspiring and new principals in the School District of Philadelphia, charter school executive leaders, and provided professional development around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion throughout the state of Massachusetts.