Big Hugs and Small Details: The Life of a Success Academy Education Manager
Katie Walraven stands at her post outside Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen each morning to greet scholars as they arrive. She receives handshakes from several, and strong hugs from one particularly enthusiastic third-grader. Katie’s not a teacher, so she might not spend much time with these scholars in the classroom — but her work as an education manager has a giant impact on their education.
We spoke to Katie about her unique role at Success Academy, and what it takes to be a successful education manager.
What motivated you to become a teacher and work at Success Academy?
Since childhood, I’ve had an interest in the science behind earthquakes and volcanoes. I realized in college that I wanted to pass along my passion for earth science to youth. After earning a master’s degree in science education, I taught earth science to high school students for four years at district schools in Virginia, and then spent another two years at a Bronx district school. I found out about SA through a friend. When I visited a school during the interview process, I was so impressed by SA’s science curriculum. They were teaching third graders about the vocabulary of the rock cycle — something that I knew most students didn’t learn until high school! My first role at Success Academy was as a lead science teacher.
Tell us about your transition to the education manager role.
After one year of teaching at Success Academy, I started to think about what I wanted out of my career. I had been teaching for over seven years at that point and decided that I was ready to experience a different side of the education field. I wanted the opportunity to impact scholar success behind the scenes and work more closely with my school’s leadership. I realized the education manager position would allow me to do both of those things. Ed managers are responsible for everything from administering New York state exams, to helping special needs scholars receive services — and so much in between! I loved that I would be able to support scholar achievement in not just science, but also in literacy and math.
What does a typical day look like as an education manager?
There’s no such thing as a typical day as an education manager! On any given morning, I’m walking the building to confirm that scholars are in the correct groups for guided reading sessions, speaking with the parents of a scholar with special needs about their child’s progress, or scoring a science exam with teachers and analyzing the results. I also meet frequently with members of the New York City Committee on Special Education to help determine how we can provide the best possible services for our scholars with special needs.
In the spring, I handle all of the logistics for administering the New York State math, ELA, and science exams — from ensuring every scholar has the right pencil or protractor, to arranging testing accommodations for our scholars with special needs.
We make sure the little things are taken care of, so our teachers and scholars can focus on what really matters — learning! I love the variety of the work that I perform on a daily basis. All education managers are part of their school’s leadership team and my work intersects with our principal, business operations manager, assistant principal, and teachers on a regular basis.
What’s unique about your role?
We get to help kids succeed — even though we don’t teach them directly. For example, one part of my job I love is administering the Fountas & Pinell (F&P) reading assessment four times a year. It’s a big undertaking for me and my education coordinator — we make schedules that ensure that every scholar in the school is tested, gather all of the materials teachers will need for the assessment, and present the administration plan to teachers. But there’s so much joy and excitement in the school during F&P testing. Children come up to me or their teacher and ask “When do I get to take the F&P?” They know they’ve made progress in reading since the last evaluation, and they can’t wait to show off what they’ve learned!
When I was a teacher at SA, I never had to think about what went into making the F&P possible. But as an education manager, I now know that it’s a lot of work to get materials ready for the whole school. But I tell my education coordinator all the time that our job is to make life easy for teachers so that they, in turn, can focus on making sure every scholar is learning at a high level.
What are your favorite moments as an education manager?
Even though I’m not a teacher — I get all of the rewards that come with working in a school. If I’ve had a long day, I can go to a kindergarten classroom and help them make bread, or head to a third grade classroom and watch scholars play with snakes in science! There’s one third grader that tries to sneak up on me each day at arrival to give me the biggest hug she can! It’s nice to be surrounded with that level of energy all the time.
What does it take to be a successful education manager?
As an education manager, you often receive guidance from the Network on carrying out different tasks within your school. I think it’s important that you’re willing to ask questions and clarify anything you don’t understand. When I first started, I tended to try to figure things out on my own, but I quickly realized that it’s better to reach out to my fellow education managers at other schools to identify practices that work well.
Education managers also have to have an innate desire to keep things organized! During the state exams, our office is full of stacks of boxes for testing — but I know what’s in each box and exactly when and how the material will be used.
I’d encourage anyone who’s really excited to work with children — and do anything in their power to help them — to learn more about the education manager role!