[How We Hire] Take the work seriously, not yourself

For all of his 10 years at KIPP New Jersey, Vince Marigna has been involved with talent efforts at the Newark-Camden network of schools that currently serves more than 3,700 kids. He spoke to us from their support office, located in the heart of Newark, about what he looks for in hires as Chief People Officer, and how organizational values help make their organization a sought-after place to work.
 


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My elevator pitch for potential hires: It’s not just the impact, but getting to see your impact. When you think about, for example, New York City and Philadelphia, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of kids. Newark and Camden are small enough where you can connect with a high number of kids, play a role in their lives, and see them through college. And while it’s small enough to see your impact, it’s large enough to get national attention, so you’ll really feel a part of something on both levels.


Skill set vs. culture fit: We recognize that there’s space for both at the table. We’ve been an organization that’s really valued culture, and our people’s contributions to that culture—how they live out the organizational values of teamwork, fun, freedom, impact, improvement, and kid focus. As the landscape of education continues to change, bringing with it a strong emphasis on common core requirements, we’re shifting to bring both cultural and experiential concerns into balance. It’s important  that our folks come to us with some experience, so that we can unsure they are prepared to teach our kids in the very rigorous way common core requires.


Outstanding qualities I look for in a candidate: You can ultimately make a decision to teach anywhere, so articulating why KIPP New Jersey is the place for you is very important. I tend to be impressed by applicants who have done their homework, who are able not only to identify our organizational values but speak about how they live these values. We’re looking for genuine commitment to ending educational inequity, and belief that this work is about more than just teaching and learning—it’s about leveling the playing field and changing the world.


Why I first joined: I was impressed by the unwavering commitment of the staff to the vision: showing kids everything that’s possible in their lives. That commitment was palpable when I walked in the door, and an important part of my job is to perpetuate that sense of commitment by helping us all live out KIPP New Jersey’s values.


What newcomers first notice about the office: Coming to a school or to our offices for the first time, people tend to notice how kid-focused we are. It may sound trite, but in school hallways we’ve got bulletin boards centered around values and key messages for kids, highlighting trips they’ve had the opportunity to take—camping in Utah, visiting Zyan National Forest and the Grand Canyon—and sports, clubs, and other activities they’re a part of. Pictures of our kids decorate our central office, and you’ll find teammates there talking to each other and laughing between projects and meetings.

 

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How the mission informs staff culture: We’re a learning organization, so we believe the lever for success is being sure we can learn from our successes as well as our failures. We survey staff regularly, and have been partnering with the New Teacher Project the last four years to get a pulse on how we’re doing, including in the back office. There’s also a ton of professional development offered to our teachers, including dedicated funds in each school budget and an early dismissal, once per week, so teachers can get together to share practices and content. At the central office, managers and directors of teams come together once a month for professional development, and we have a day-long all-staff professional development opportunity once per quarter.


What people love about working here: Freedom and impact, two of our organizational values, mean that our people are respected for their expertise and experience, and are given the space to use them. People are attracted to work here because they see what we achieve—a high college attendance rate, a great college persistence rate—and feel they can contribute to that work and really make a difference.

I love that we take the work very seriously, but not ourselves. Even in the central office, we’re encouraged to get to know students and build relationships with them, and having fun—another KIPP value—is part of that. Something we focus on at all levels is learning how to have fun while doing hard work.
 


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Something special we do to support staff: Last Friday we had our 8th annual TEAMspys award ceremony, a combination of the Academy Awards and the Espys, recognizing all our staff members. Peers nominate each other in each of our core values, and for MVPs of each campus and across the organization, then we bring everyone together for a night to give out the awards and celebrate everyone’s hard work. It’s a really fun night—the official tagline is “The Best Night of Your Life!”—where all staff are encouraged to bring spouses, partners, brothers, or sisters for a sit-down dinner and open bar. It’s one way we really go all-out to celebrate our folks, and do it within the context of our organizational values.


The first place I take new hires outside of work: Because the school day doesn’t give us an opportunity to leave during the day, we are definitely a “happy hour” culture. There are new great choices opening up all the time: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que by the Prudential Center, Duke’s Southern Table downtown. And then there are our standards: tapas at Mompou, or Fornos of Spain for a nice dinner.

 

KIPP NJ logoKIPP New Jersey is comprised of 10 primary, middle, and high schools in Newark and Camden, part of the national KIPP network of free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools for underserved communities. Since 2002, KIPP New Jersey has served more than 5,800 students, helping more than 75 percent of their 8th grade graduates make it to college. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Vimeo.

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