The Journey So Far: A Reflection From Our CPO

2022 has been a year of substantial growth and development at Democracy Prep, much of which we have our Chief People Officer Jacqueline Younker to thank! Jacquie joined us this past June, and she has been working diligently to learn about Democracy Prep, understand our systems, and improve our processes to ensure our People Team provides the best possible services to our network. 

Now at the six-month mark on our DREAM team, Jacquie reflects on her journey with Democracy Prep so far!

1. As you reflect on these six months, we’d love to know why you chose to join Democracy Prep.
I cannot believe that it is already December! I truly know that I’ve found a home at Democracy Prep that I can grow into. When I joined the DPPS team, I was excited to pursue the ambitious strategic plan that our CEO Natasha Trivers had published.  I knew that the aspirations within the plan would challenge me, but I also believed that I had a lot to offer DPPS with my experiences in large traditional districts as well as teaching, coaching, and leading in charter networks. I was also inspired by our commitment to civics education. For many years in high school and in college, I used theater as a way to share my civic beliefs. Being at DPPS was the first time I truly felt my passion for social justice, theater, and education come together. Six months later, I know I made the right decision to join this team.

2. What have you learned about the people who work at DPPS?
DPPS educators and teammates are fierce—fiercely passionate about the network and their schools. This may seem like a stock response, but I’ve coached teachers in many settings, led HR and Talent at an executive level in other contexts, and this is not always an obvious or palpable feeling across the board. At DPPS, that dedication and ferocity is obvious and energizing. I’ve also found DPPS people to be committed to changing and growing. It’s been a breath of fresh air. While we have a lot of work to do to stabilize our workforce and to see adult culture improve, I can say with full belief that we are on the right track because of the way I see DPPS teammates and educators advocate for change. I feel that most people are driven by innovation rather than “that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”

3. How do you take what is great about who we currently are and help us grow?
That is a great question. There are many behind the scenes projects that are vital to our future success at DPPS that we must see to fruition. For example, a big project is building data infrastructure to accurately and efficiently manage people-related data. 

Over the next two years, we’d like to see all managers grow in their ability to effectively coach, manage, support, and develop their staff. This means being able to make choices based on best practices and our values that center on building an honest and meaningful relationship between teacher and principal or manager and director — no matter the relationship. I think that deepening our culture of feedback and development will be the best way to harness the fierce passion of our network. This will look like more time with the Human Resources team, the People Team providing professional development workshops in schools and at the CMO, and creating people leaders and champions out of every single leader.

Jacqueline Younker speaking at our Fall Fest panel discussion on “Education for Liberation and Empowerment.”

4. What has your team been working on since you joined us in June?
Well, as you can imagine we’ve been busy. I am really thankful for the transition support from Linda Jones-Easton and Alexa Gonzalez because it was not an easy transition. Thankfully, Natasha allocated the right resources to the People Team to facilitate an intensive restructuring of all of the functions that live under the People Team umbrella (Human Resources, Recruitment, People Operations, and Talent). Natasha’s foresight to develop the plan to restructure even before selecting a new Chief People Officer demonstrated that DPPS isn’t just “talking the talk,” but also willing to align critical resources to “walk the walk” and improve our people-related functions. Since then, our team of Human Resource Business Partners has expanded to confidently serve a portfolio of schools similar to the Director of Operations set-up. We’ve isolated Employee Relations to strengthen our ability to be responsive and proactive about people-related challenges that might arise. We’ve also added to our People Operations and Systems team to ensure that we are building an infrastructure that can sustain our complex and large organization. That means updating and automating our systems and processes to make them accessible to all who need them (i.e. we have moved to a ticket-based system called Incident IQ, which has allowed the People Team to keep better track of our organization’s needs and have all requests living in one domain, and retired the HR email address). The Recruitment Team is currently building a strategic plan and manager/leader playbook to brighten the lines of partnership, clarify our goals, and ensure that we have a strategy that is adaptable to changing markets. 

Honestly, there is so much going on! It’s taken time to observe and understand DPPS, and we still have a lot of learning to do to inform our approach. Nevertheless, Natasha and I are looking forward to sharing our goals and progress in the months to come.

5. Speaking of the future, what are you most looking forward to in the next six months?
I am looking forward to spending more time in schools and in our regions getting to know our staff and our scholars. I am also looking forward to continuing our equity work. Most of all, I am excited to share a vision and goals to our network so that everyone understands the ongoing transformation of the People Team. I know that the end result will be improved partnership and customer service. 

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