Being part of a Teach Plus’ Harmony Teachers Advisory Cabinet will help Odessa campus teachers Sara Donaldson and Toni Wolford Pina advocate for their fellow instructors.
Donaldson is a kindergarten through second grade campus instructional coach and Pina is a sixth through eighth grade social studies teacher at Harmony Science Academy in Odessa.
Harmony, a free charter school, has students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
Pina is in her fifth year at Harmony and Donaldson is in her fourth year. Donaldson is a senior cabinet member who will be leading a subcommittee and Pina is a recent appointee.
“Teach Plus is a nonprofit organization that empowers teachers to be leaders. And so us as cabinet members, we advocate on behalf of teachers to bring about policy change and better instructional policies, practices,” Donaldson said.
Pina, who also is the Social Studies Department chair, said it was wonderful to be chosen.
“I looked at the numbers and they said 200 people applied and they only chose 20, so that’s a big honor and a lot of responsibility on me to make sure that I advocate for my teachers in West Texas and make sure our voices are heard. But I’m very excited to be on it. Really excited,” Pina said.
Donaldson said Harmony creates a lot of avenues for teacher leadership and this is one of them.
“We partner with Teach Plus and we really hone in on skills. Teach Plus teaches us how to become policymakers and how to effectively communicate our ideas in a positive way,” Donaldson said.
Pina said Teach Plus helps them become better teacher leaders to ensure they are promoting that positive impact for the teachers on campus.
One of the things they do is an anonymous teacher survey. A result of last year’s survey was better methods of lesson planning to make it very specific and intentional.
Harmony Science Academy Public Relations Coordinator Christina Bernal said it’s very exciting to have two teachers on campus represent Harmony.
Delfina Glenn, West Texas director of marketing and communications, said there are now 62 Harmony campuses.
“It’s important to have representation from West Texas, as well, because in the past, we were underrepresented as a group,” Glenn said.
Headquartered in Houston, Harmony’s West Texas District has a campus in Lubbock and five in El Paso, along with the school in Odessa. There will be eight next year when another campus opens in El Paso.
Donaldson said the cabinet meets once a month over Zoom.
“It’s the only practical way to facilitate all the teacher leaders within the state of Texas,” Donaldson said.
Pina said they work as a cohort to share what has been successful and they get feedback.
“So we’re always helping each other do better,” she said.
Donaldson added that they make friends, collaborate on ideas and find out what other campuses are doing.
“And you want to take those ideas back to your campus because teachers inspire other teachers,” she said.
Donaldson said she heard a quote once that said the best professional development is next door.
“I’ve always tried to grab on to the smartest teacher on any campus I’ve been at and learn from them. I’m always inspired,” Donaldson said.
She had stopped by Pina’s room earlier in the morning and she told her students she had to step out for a minute and the students collectively said, “Nooo!!”
“It was a sweet moment for me because that was just evidence of the bond with her students and how much regard they have for her and how much she inspires them to learn,” Donaldson said.
There are plans for expansion in Odessa and Lubbock.
There are 520 students in Odessa and there is a long waiting list.
On the seven West Texas campuses, there are more than 5,000 students, 567 staff and they are an A-rated district. The Odessa campus is B rated under state accountability ratings.