Job Listings

Meet Janelle Payne

Role: Assistant School Leader

School: KIPP Life Academy

Janelle Payne has always wanted to work with children. Her passion for supporting a child’s development led to her current position as an Assistant School Leader at KIPP Life Academy. Learn about her journey from a paraprofessional to school leadership, below. 

What inspired you to enter teaching as a profession?

I’ve always been a nurturer and enjoyed working with kids. Every summer in high school I worked at a bilingual daycare and preschool, which sparked a passion for early childhood education. When I was in my early twenties, I worked at a daycare, but it wasn’t quite the right fit as I was hoping to educate children in historically underserved communities. I reached out to a fraternity brother who worked at Newark Public Schools and accepted a role as a paraprofessional educating students with special needs in a self-contained classroom. The minute I arrived, I knew teaching was the kind of work I wanted to do; I wanted to be someone students trusted, even if they struggled academically.

What led you to teach at KIPP New Jersey?

During my second year, the school transitioned to becoming a KIPP school (KIPP Life Academy). I didn’t know what I was going to do the following year, but I knew I wanted to keep working with kids in Newark. One of my colleagues, Corey Harris, had been hired by KIPP Life Academy and he encouraged me to apply to teach there. I spoke with the recruiter and realized that I wanted to be a part of KIPP’s approach to education. My first year as a KIPP paraprofessional supporting second graders, I was in complete awe of the school’s transformation. Being a part of the founding year of a turnaround school was magical. 

I started as a paraprofessional in 2nd grade. I really looked up to the school leadership team and enjoyed working with kids with autism and students who had learning challenges. Even though I loved being a paraprofessional, I knew I wanted to be a classroom teacher. 

Tell me about how you grew as a teacher at KIPP NJ?

As a paraprofessional, I was always hungry to take on more responsibilities and I became a co-teacher in 2015. I was paired with a great teaching partner, Zuqorah Myrick. But down the hall, there was a classroom that was struggling with behavioral and emotional needs and I was asked if I could help lead the classroom. I didn’t know if I’d be the right person for the job, but at the end of the day the decision was easy, because all kids in the school are our kids.

 It was the most challenging classroom I’ve had, but also the most rewarding. It increased my classroom management skills and my social, emotional, and academic toolkit. To this day, I can still pull from those experiences to help students with academic or behavioral needs in my classroom. That class is why I’m here today.

After that, one of my assistant principal’s asked me to step up to second grade and be a part of that founding grade team. My assistant principal, Shadell Purefoy, was hard on me, she would always find feedback, even when I thought things were going well. Her philosophy was that it’s the details that separates the contenders from the champions, and she thought I could be a champion. Her belief in me was inspiring and she helped me appreciate how the details impact the bigger picture. 

Overtime, I took on additional responsibilities like being a special events coordinator, culture coordinator, assessment coordinator and helping to mentor other teachers. I was then encouraged to apply for a grade leadership role and today I work as an assistant principal of K-4 mathematics. 

What does success look like in your role?

I was blessed to have leaders that didn’t put me into a box; they let me interact with kids in a way that was authentic to me and let me be innovative and try new things. If I want to differentiate a lesson for a class, I’m able to do that. As a leader, I want my teachers to feel confident they can use their experiences and make decisions that empower and support students. That’s my measure of success.  

I also love developing teacher-leaders. I ask them in August, “What do you want to do next year?” Once they tell me, I’m going to help them and make sure they have those opportunities to succeed and meet their goals. And this school year four of the teachers I coached are moving into teacher-leader positions in our school. I’m so proud of their work!