Incoming CEO of Public Charter Network Reflects on 2020, Her Time at LMU

After serving as Chief Academic Officer of KIPP SoCal Public Schools for the past eight years, Angella Martinez M.A. ’03 was tapped to become the next CEO of the 20-charter public school network, starting on July 1, 2021. A graduate of LMU School of Education via its partnership with Teach for America (TFA) L.A., Martinez was previously an elementary school teacher in Compton with the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) and later principal of KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory School in Boyle Heights, where her skills and leadership led to greatly improved academic performance at both schools. She spoke with the SOE about the pandemic and the challenges and opportunities of preparing for her new role.

How have your experiences as a teacher and principal affected how you serve as an administrator and leader?

It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re leading when making decisions as an organization. I’m fortunate that I can draw on my years of experience in the classroom, and as a principal, to ensure that I take their needs into account as we plan for the future. I also bring in those experiences when I talk to people within and outside of KIPP about what we do and how we do it. At the end of the day, we’re here to serve our students in many different capacities, and we all want to feel supported in those roles.

What’s been the most difficult thing for your schools to navigate during the past year?

The challenges of learning new technologies and methods for virtual instruction have been significant, of course. But since the pandemic hit we’ve been focused on supporting our students’ social and emotional needs as best we can, along with academic ones. We always knew school was a “safe space” for our most vulnerable students—a place where we’re doing more than just teaching them—but that reality has become even starker since we haven’t been together in person. Let’s be clear: We’re still in crisis mode. Our most vulnerable families are suffering from job losses, food insecurity, housing insecurity. Many don’t have regular access to the Internet or technology. People of color have had higher rates of Covid infection and deaths. Real recovery from the academic, financial, social, and emotional losses of the pandemic will take a long time.

What have you been doing to prepare for returning to in-person instruction later in 2021?

We’re talking a lot about reimagining education in public schools. Given how much we’ve gone through in the past year, it would be a big waste to not re-evaluate what we’re doing and why. If we’ve been able to teach academics 100% online, how can we use technology differently when we return to in-person instruction? How do we best show up for our students and for each other? The pandemic has helped us think about what’s important to our students’ learning—that our students and their families have positive and long-lasting relationships with us, to know we’re on their side, on their team.

Organizationally we’re also in a time of reflection right now. We’re doing a lot of work to ensure that we’re breaking down systems of oppression and inequality, and examining how our activities hold up the systems that have historically oppressed the communities we serve. We’re working to become a truly anti-racist organization, and we’re doing so in partnership with our students, families, and our own team.

How did LMU prepare you for the roles you’ve had as a teacher and educational leader?

The teacher prep at LMU was excellent. Dr. Edmundo Litton was my field supervisor and that experience was very powerful for me. He was a great instructor in the classroom, and when he came to observe me teach, his pointers helped me develop my skills.

My cohort and I also benefited from LMU’s small class sizes and close relationships with each other and with our professors. At a public university, where classes are so much larger, those sorts of relationships aren’t always realistic. The intimate environment allowed us to form strong connections, which have helped us as we’ve moved through our careers in education. Nearly 20 years later, many of us are still in touch as friends and colleagues.

I should add that the Teach for America partnership was what made it possible for me to earn a graduate degree at LMU. Otherwise, a private education would have been out of reach for me financially. I’m still grateful for that opportunity, and glad that TFA has supported the training of so many excellent teachers and leaders in education.