IN CLOSE WITH | Brenda Betancourt
Principal of Kenneth White Junior High in the Mission CISD in Mission, Texas, Brenda K. Betancourt is a dedicated and passionate educator who worked her way up the ranks but has been a successful educator all along the way.
GETTING STARTED How did you get started as an educator, and how has your job changed over the years?
I started my career in education as a pre-K teacher in January of 2000 in La Joya ISD. La Joya ISD was the district where I had attended school all my life, and now my teachers were my colleagues. Since I was coming into teaching in the middle of the year, I had to learn the ins and outs quickly to not fall behind or make a mistake that would cause my students to fall behind. After all, I had 50 half-day pre-K students eager to learn and waiting for me to provide them with those learning experiences. As a first-year teacher, I watched other teachers and administrators closely to pick out those important traits that would make me a successful educator. Just like my pre-K students, I was eager to learn and everything was a learning opportunity.
I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning.
After my second year of teaching, I decided to continue my education and pursue a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. I believed I could make a bigger impact on student learning if I became a school administrator. My long-term career goal was to become a school principal.
After five years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I became an assistant principal of a middle school. My responsibilities now were to ensure the safety, security, and educational development of 800+ students and help lead 100 teachers and staff members. My primary focus was to work with teachers to strengthen core instruction and provide students with a quality education that incorporated student-centered, hands-on activities that promoted life-long learning. During my time as an assistant principal, I had the opportunity to work with experienced teachers and administrators who provided me with advice, mentored me, and allowed me to grow as an instructional leader.
After seven years as an assistant principal, I moved up to Principal of Kenneth White Junior High School in MCISD, where I am able to put all my experiences, knowledge, imagination, and innovation into play to continue to foster that love for teaching and learning. One of my first tasks as a principal was to provide the district with a restructuring plan. In collaboration with campus administrators and teachers, we decided to become a STEM campus. We felt that in order to provide more meaningful learning opportunities and prepare our students for the future, we had to incorporate STEM principles into our daily practices. This meant that we had to revamp the way our school and teachers operated. It started with upgrading the infrastructure and technology in the classrooms and many hours of professional development in STEM and project-based learning. Welcome to the STEM world, KWJH!
Even after deciding that STEM was the way to go, I never lost sight of the main goal. It was my responsibility to provide my students with learning opportunities that will strengthen core instruction and student success. Everything that we did revolved around the same question: How is this going to impact student success?
After four years as a STEAM campus (after our second year, we incorporated the fine arts as well), I am very happy to say that the culture of our school has changed. We embrace technology. Teachers who were reluctant to incorporate technology and move into PBL are now comfortable and willing to try new technologies that become available and allow students to become independent learners. But we never lose sight of those best instructional practices that will ensure student success.
INSPIRATIONS What inspires you about teaching? Do you have a slogan or mantra that guides you?
I am most inspired by my teachers. I have worked on five different campuses in three different districts. Four out of the five campuses serviced students with low socio-economic status, high mobility rate, a 30-50 percent ELL population, and a high number of single-parent homes—all factors that can make teaching and learning a challenge. Despite all of these challenges, my teachers have shown that they have the heart and desire to help our students succeed in school and life. They dedicate countless hours to researching, collaborating, planning, and preparing meaningful lessons for our students. They give up their personal time and money to make sure that our students have everything they need to succeed. They become moms, dads, counselors, and coaches to those students who need them the most. Teaching is not a career we choose to become rich and famous. We become educators to mold and develop young minds.
I have one guiding question when making decisions that will impact our students: “Would I want this for my child?” If the answer is no, then it is not good for anyone else’s child and I have to find an alternative. I ask teachers to ask themselves the same question when making decisions.
My other principle is that change is good and necessary. My email signature includes a quote from Vicente Fox: “Only when we are fully immersed in change can we forget our weaknesses and fears and summon the courage, stamina, and strength to overcome all obstacles.” This quote reminds others and myself that we must not be afraid of change and we will overcome those obstacles if we embrace change.
FAVORITE TECH What is your favorite tech tool right now and why?
myON has changed literacy on our campus. We have become a campus where ALL students read. Struggling readers are able to use the tools that myON provides to work on fluency and comprehension, and advanced readers have a plethora of titles to choose from. The 1:1 initiative we started when becoming a STEM campus has facilitated the use of software programs like myON.
RECENT EVENTS What memorable edtech conference have you attended recently?
The TCEA and STEM conferences are always my favorite. This is a way for us to stay current with new technologies. Also, our staff is now presenting at these conferences and sharing their knowledge and experiences with other educators.
MEMORABLE MOMENT What was your greatest educational moment?
There is not one moment that I can pick. Over my 17 years in education, there have been many. Definitely, my first year teaching was very rewarding. It was a year of discovery. As a principal, seeing my staff and students succeed in different areas is very fulfilling. It is also very rewarding when we see our students come back and thank us for helping them get through tough times or encouraging them to challenge themselves.
RED ED What was your most embarrassing educational moment?
That’s an easy question. Again, I go back to my first year teaching. I was preparing for my first formal observation and had been working with my four-year-olds to make sure everything went smoothly. During my observation, I asked the students why it was important to learn about primary and secondary colors and their answer in unison was “because they are coming to see us!” I think I turned all shades of red. Luckily, my supervisor thought it was cute and I was not penalized.
Any technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome.
PD FOR ME What makes for great tech-related professional development?
I like professional development activities that are hands-on, relevant to our student population, engaging, and that can be integrated immediately.
BRING IT ON! What’s the next technology you want to bring to your classroom/school/district and why?
Being a STEAM campus, our students and teachers have become comfortable and proficient with hardware and software. In order to challenge ourselves, I believe we need to focus on programing/coding. It is important for students to understand the why and how of applications and programs. It will develop their problem-solving skills and help them become visionaries and innovators.
NO THANKS What technology do you wish had never been invented and why?
I do not think there is anything out there that I would call bad technology. It all has to do with how we manage it and use it. As an educator, there is a struggle with the use of smartphones/cellphones. They are a great resource to everyone if used at the right time and for the right reasons. Where they become a nuance is when students use them during instruction and it becomes a distraction to them.
FUTURE LOOK What educational technology do you wish someone would invent and why?
Any technology that is going to make an educator’s daily work easier and more manageable is always welcome. Anything from taking roll to planning lessons. I would like to see educational technologies that assist students who have a profound learning disability due to developmental or medical issues. While there has been great improvements, there is a need for more assistive technologies.
Reach Brenda through
School website: kwhite.mcisd.net
Facebook: Kenneth White Junior High @K.WhiteJH2016
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