Interested in making a larger impact, Karen Vicory at Wilson & Young Medal of Honor Middle School and Sydney Garcia at Pease Elementary made the leap from classroom teachers to multi-classroom leaders.

The position, through Opportunity Culture, gives them a chance to teach in the classroom and mentor their peers.

Ector County ISD Executive Director for Talent Development Ashley Osborne said the district has 49 MCLs at 17 elementary, middle and high school campuses.

Campuses perform a redesign of their Opportunity Culture plan every year where they can determine the structure of Opportunity Culture based on campus need, data and context.

“Next year, we are looking to add around 20 additional MCLs. Additionally, we will have 20 campuses utilizing the Opportunity Culture model,” Osborne said in an email.

Vicory, who teaches sixth-grade English, and Garcia, who teaches second, are the only multi-classroom leaders on their respective campuses.

Multi Classroom Leader Karen Vicory poses for a photo in her sixth grade english classroom Monday, May 2, 2022 at Wilson and Young Medal of Honor Middle School. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

“It’s the ideal job,” Vicory said. “I was a classroom teacher in ECISD for one year, and was quickly promoted to several curriculum positions — reading specialists, curriculum facilitator. I’ve been a math and science instructional specialist, campus coach. All of those positions are wonderful and you can help coach and influence teachers, but there’s more power in being a teammate.”

“The difference in this position and the positions that I held before, as far as supporting teachers, is I was a stronger coach and mentor to my peers when I was actually in the classroom; when I’m in the trenches; when I’m digging through the tough stuff with the teachers; makes you a little more credible. You can recognize hurdles and hiccups quickly when you’re the one that’s truly sharing in that,” Vicory added.

When she’s in the classroom, she’s able to show teachers how to be successful vs. sitting in an office, coming into the classroom and telling teachers how to be successful.

“When the position came up about the multi-classroom leader, I felt like it was the best of both worlds because you could still teach but … I can still influence and coach and help lead the teachers and learn from them as well. There’s a lot to be learned. Nobody knows it all, so I like being able to work with the teachers, where we’re at. It just definitely buys a little more credibility, I think, with the team.”

When the idea of Opportunity Culture first came up, it was very appealing, but she was skeptical.

“I thought okay, where’s the other shoe? What’s the trick? I kept waiting for it to come in and it is as cut and dry as it sounds. When I realized, wait a minute, I can focus on one grade level, one content area and do for them what I have done for entire campuses, three grade levels, every content area. It got me very excited when I realized the amount of energy that I could put into one small team of teachers, and again, still be able to work with 12-year-olds and still be able to help teachers. It’s a beautiful spot,” Vicory added.

Vicory has been in education for 20 years working in two states — New Mexico and Texas — and four school districts. She has taught elementary, middle school, special education and various curriculum roles.

Vicory grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and went to Amarillo College and West Texas A&M University in Canyon earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies. She recently graduated with an education law degree from the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University.

She added that she is not only sold on her position, but Wilson & Young as a campus.

“This is the job I’ve looked for for my entire career,” Vicory said.

She added that she doesn’t have any educators in her family, but she was surrounded by talented people early in her career.

When she was at WT, they had a grow your own teacher program.

“I was adopted by a campus who for two years nurtured me and grew me. Not one person. Not one mentor, but an entire campus investing in me. By the time I graduated and became a first-year teacher, much like my current teacher resident this year, I graduated and became a direct coworker of the person that had been my mentor for two years. So I still had that strong support from her. And much like my teacher resident, we’ve already confirmed employment for her. She’ll be right across the hall from me as my teammate next year. So I kind of paid some of that forward,” Vicory said.

Multi Classroom Leader Sydney Garcia poses for a photo inside her office Monday, May 2, 2022 at Pease Elementary School. (Odessa American/Eli Hartman)

Garcia taught at Hays STEAM Academy and was there from her student teaching days until last year. She is now at Pease Elementary.

“I was looking into the multi-classroom leader role because it was a pipeline for teachers to be able to stay in the classroom, but be able to move up to where you teach part of the day and then you coach other teachers the rest of your day,” Garcia said.

“I knew that I wanted to go into leadership. I was working on my master’s degree to get my principal certification and I didn’t think it was fair to go straight from the classroom into an assistant principal role without having the experience of leading other adults. So whenever I saw the MCL (multi-classroom leader) pop up, it was really intriguing because I stayed in the classroom, but I also got to experience leading other teachers and coaching them,” she added.

She noted that Opportunity Culture was only available at certain campuses.

“So in looking for that MCL role, I knew I’d have to leave to a new campus and that’s how I ended up here at Pease and I’ve absolutely loved it,” she added.

She also loves being an MCL so far.

“The biggest … challenge for me was realizing that adults are so much different than kids in the aspect of building relationships and getting them to trust you, and getting them to be comfortable with you coming into their classroom, and watching them teach and then sitting down and having a conversation with them about how you can improve your teaching practices,” Garcia said.

“… It’s never about the teacher personally. It’s about making their teaching practices better. I feel like that was the hardest shift,” Garcia added.

She had never been an instructional coach, so moving from students to students and adults was interesting.

“But I’ve grown immensely and I feel like I made the right decision moving into an MCL position before pursuing an assistant principal position,” Garcia said.

Pease has about 600 students in prekindergarten through second grade.

Born and raised in Odessa, Garcia said this is her fifth year in education. She is a product of Ector County ISD and graduated from Odessa High School.

She then went to Odessa College and University of Texas Permian Basin where she earned a bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies, early childhood through sixth grade.

She earned a master’s degree from UT Arlington in educational leadership and got her principal certification and plans to start work on a doctorate to earn a superintendent’s certification.

“And next year, I’ll actually be transitioning to the assistant principal here at Pease,” Garcia said.

She added that the assistant principal and principals’ roles are shifting to where it’s no longer just discipline and management.

“… It’s going inside the classrooms and supporting teachers, and helping them to strengthen their pedagogy so that it’s creating better student achievement, student data and it’s not all on that teacher. They’re getting support to get them where they need to be,” she added.

She is the only MCL at Pease and she has a teacher resident.

“It’s like a student teacher. But she stays with me the entire year. She’s actually getting paid through her residency this semester, this whole entire year versus a student teacher (where) you stay in the classroom for 14 weeks and you don’t get paid and then you’re thrown into the classroom,” Garcia said.

“She’s been allowed to be in the classroom this whole year. It’s her classroom as well and we’ve gotten to work together. I get to coach her and she gets to receive feedback. We get to plan together and she gets to understand what being a teacher is before being thrown in after 14 weeks,” she added.

Having grown up in Odessa, Garcia said this is a place that’s different from any other.

“… I always feel like when I look at the kids, I feel like I see myself and it makes my job a lot easier. … Then I feel like I’m able to advocate for what they need and what’s best for them. And hopefully, one day I’ll make it to where I can be in downtown administration in ECISD so that I make that full circle and I can truly advocate for those kids,” Garcia said.

Overall, she said, Opportunity Culture can transform the district.

Other districts that have used Opportunity Culture have seen their data increase substantially, Garcia said.

“Next year we will continue to have one MCL, but we are adding what’s called an MTRT (a Master Team Reach Teacher), and they are somebody who coaches one adult, and they see more students in their classroom. And it is a step up towards becoming an MCL. That teacher will be able to learn and grasp what it’s like to coach one teacher, and hopefully be able to transition into an MCL,” Garcia said.

She added that she loves coming full circle at ECISD and soaking in ideas from different people.