Linda Brown, Kayleigh Colombero, and Cristina Ureña at the Charter Folk Oxygen Bar – Stubbornness and Grit in Support of Improved Public Education For Those Who Need it Most

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are pleased to share with you the third in a series of short video interviews we are calling the “CharterFolk Oxygen Bar,” stories of extraordinary leaders helping others find new levels of resiliency during this moment of great challenge for charter schools and for all public education.  Today’s edition is about two women who brought oxygen to each other, students, teachers, and families at Étoile Academy Charter School in Houston, Texas.  Back at the Oxygen Bar by popular demand is Linda Brown discussing stubbornness and grit with these two extraordinary leaders – Kayleigh Colombero, the Founder and Superintendent of Étoile Academy Charter School, and Cristina Ureña, Étoile’s Chief Academic Officer.

I hope you’ll carve out the time to view all 22 minutes of this interview.  Until you do, here are a few highlights:

  • At 1.24 minutes, Linda clarifies her definition of “stubbornness.”  You may remember Linda took me to the woodshed last time for my use of the term “resiliency,” insisting that her down-right “stubbornness” is actually her special source of strength.  Linda says that while some of her stubbornness has come with age, it is inherent in people who are strong, who believe in themselves, and who are leaders like Kayleigh and Cristina.
  • At the 4:38 point, Linda talks about first meeting Kayleigh during an interview five years ago and knowing she and Cristina had the grit necessary to open and lead a charter school because “you could hear the gravel under their feet as they move.”
  • At minute nine, Kayleigh shares where her oxygen came from when Étoile Academy Charter School was hit hard by the pandemic.  Summoning the stubbornness that Linda describes, Kayleigh was able to get teachers and students back to school within a week of quarantine, which began their last day of school before spring vacation, and she was able to ensure that students were attending online classes every day.
  • At minute twelve, Cristina shares where her oxygen came from in order to stay relentless for students and parents when facing new pandemic-related barriers.
  • At the 14:53 mark, Cristina describes how their data tracking of spring 2020’s virtual school led them to start open campus options in fall 2020, have 75% of their students on campus last spring, and 90% of students taking their STAR test on campus last year.  They have had 100% of their students back on campus for the entirety of this school year.
  • At minute nineteen, inspired by these three women’s stories, I share a quote from a poem entitled Stubborn, by Roland Flint, which teaches us all to do what must be done in the moment, to see what is possible beyond the current obstacle, and to push through to the other side where we invariably find special people who bring oxygen to everyone they encounter.

It was an extraordinary conversation with three extraordinary leaders who embody what CharterFolk are, people who understand deeply what needs to be done to improve public education for those who need it most and help us find a deeper commitment to go after it.

Meanwhile, I offer thanks to our three guests for providing a great blast of oxygen that’s helping me to keep going with everything I’ve got. I hope the rest of you find Linda’s, Kayleigh’s, and Cristina’s stories as inspiring as I have.

For those of you wanting to learn more about Kayleigh and Linda, you will find links herein. 

For Cristina, I provide a bio below.

Cristina Ureña is the Chief Academic Officer at Étoile Academy Charter School. She has been with Étoile since year one starting as the founding ELA teacher and Dean of Students. Cristina served as the founding Principal of Étoile in year two. Now, she is serving as the Chief Academic Officer where she supports teachers and other staff to ensure Étoile meets our ambitious academic goals. She is a former Building Excellent Schools fellow, Teach for America Alum, and former HISD teacher/instructional coach. She is a First Generation Latina graduate from New York City. She studied Psychology at Columbia University and holds a Master of Education from University of St. Thomas. Cristina has a record of success with low-income students in Houston with over 10 years of experience in education. She has made it her life’s work to ensure students who look like her and face childhood challenges like she faced are given the opportunity to excel.