Q&A with KIPP Indy Legacy High teacher Greg Sparks
The Mind Trust launched the Educators Assistance Award program in 2021 to help eliminate the financial barrier of continuing education for Indianapolis teachers. Funds help teachers advance their careers, grow as professionals, and impact students. Last year’s award recipients have already put those funds to good use.
We recently sat down with Greg Sparks, a Spanish Teacher at KIPP Indy Legacy High, who is currently enrolled in the Urban Principalship Program at IUPUI with support from an Educators Assistance Award. Sparks talked about his personality as a relentless learner, his dream of serving as a leader in an urban school, and what makes KIPP Indy Legacy High a special place.
Q: Describe your educational background. What drives you as an educator?
A: I’m a relentless learner. After I finished my undergrad degree at Texas Tech University in 2016, I did a Master of Arts in Teaching at Marian University, then a Master of Arts in Teaching Spanish at New Mexico State University, and now I’m in the Urban Principalship Program at IUPUI. This latest endeavor is pushing my career in a direction I always knew I wanted to go: urban school administration.
I didn’t want to be an educator who served in urban schools for a couple of years and then left. I’ve seen the pattern. Young educators, fresh out of college or newly-enrolled in a teacher prep program, put in a few years at big-city schools then move on to the suburbs or a different career entirely. I’m determined to stick around. Right now it is as a teacher, but someday as a leader too.
Q: What drew you to IUPUI’s program after already securing multiple advanced degrees?
A: IUPUI’s program hooked me with its focus on training leaders who are dedicated to urban education. I previously served on Teach Indy’s teacher task force and Sara Marshall, The Mind Trust’s Senior Director of Talent, connected me to The Mind Trust’s Educators Assistance Award program. It’s been great to pursue this experience without having to worry so much about the financial side of things.
I’ve been really pleased to see equity issues permeating our curriculum at IUPUI. Teachers are told to be culturally-responsive. In the same way, my program believes and teaches that school administrators need to be grounded in culturally-responsive leadership. They definitely don’t put the technical aspects of school administration on the backburner. But I’m happy that they prioritize leading from a racial equity lens and with community assets in mind.
Q: What’s an example of how your program has emphasized racial equity?
A: A recent example happened when I was conducting some classroom observations. I was instructed to analyze for instructional decisions and moves the teacher made. But I was also asked to analyze the teacher’s disposition and delivery. Were they culturally-responsive in the language they used, their tone of voice, how they navigated the classroom? Did every student receive the amount of attention they deserved? I feel like those aspects could easily be glossed over or ignored, but they have real impact for how students experience and respond to a lesson.
Q: How has your program influenced your perception of education politics?
A: I’ve been struck by the attention IUPUI’s program gives to education politics. Instead of just deliberating on the process of how education bills are passed, I’ve been encouraged to view the educational process as political and to view what happens at my school as having political implications.
In my experience at IUPUI I have had the opportunity to represent the perspective of Innovation and non-traditional public schools. The majority of my classmates represent township schools with a few in IPS. The conversations we engage in allow for an active dialogue rooted in our personal experiences and interactions with the stakeholders in our respective communities. Ultimately, we all come to the conclusion that all of our schools do their best to actualize the purpose of providing our deserving students with a balanced education in addition to being a resource hub for the wider community; especially when you get closer to the lower socioeconomic status neighborhoods in Indianapolis.
I believe the beauty of school choice is illustrated by a place like KIPP Indy Public Schools. We have the autonomy needed to prioritize partnerships with Edna Martin Christian Center and other entities in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. When my classmates ask what our community thinks of the school, I have an opportunity to explain those deep partnerships.
Q: How did you end up teaching at KIPP Indy Public Schools?
A: Taking a job at KIPP Indy Legacy High was a big move for me. It had a reputation for being a demanding atmosphere among other educators I know. Six years in, I was seeking a different atmosphere compared to what I had previously. Everyone at KIPP seeks to pour into you to ensure you succeed professionally. I continue to grow in my instruction during my time at KIPP and that didn’t happen in my previous roles.
I’ll be honest though, really what sealed the deal was our school leader David Spencer. His energy convinced me to apply to KIPP originally. He is one of the most caring individuals I have had the honor of interacting with. He leads with kindness. He builds incredible investment. He is urgent about providing success and opportunities for our students. Spencer balances his kindness with incredible work stamina and observable action that builds momentum. His mantra, “Every moment matters” is noticed in daily decision-making as he fully seeks to find the intersection of opportunity and challenge for both students, staff, and our community.
Q: What makes KIPP a special place to teach and lead?
A: I take every chance I get to expand my tool belt. KIPP is great at providing opportunities to lead and grow professionally outside of being just a classroom teacher. I want to have had multifaceted experiences I can draw on when I step into an admin role someday. KIPP is a special professional environment because I am heard, recognized as an expert, and listened to. It’s easy to fulfill my passion for continually learning because everyone here is pushing to get better.