Paramount Schools: Pathways to Excellence- How Paramount Develops Teachers

In our new blog series, ‘Meet Our Schools’, Teach Indy will share the work of schools across center township uplifting the vision and mission for student success through the eyes of educators in the buildings.

Paramount Schools of Excellence is one of the elder statesmen when it comes to charter schools in Indianapolis. They’ve been around for a bit, with their flagship campus launching over a decade ago in the Brookside neighborhood. Since then, they’ve expanded to encompass three Indianapolis schools, one online school, and campuses in Lafayette and South Bend. 

A major factor in their growth and ongoing success is how they develop teachers. Not just to become excellent teachers, but also to become the network’s next leaders. Paramount slots educators into different Teacher Pathways, such as the New Teacher Academy, Administrator Track, or Master Teacher Track. Where teachers invest their time is based on skills and interests.

This differentiated design is exemplified by three exceptional Paramount educators, each with their own unique experience based on previous roles or which pathway they are investing in. 

Neesha Jackson, Master Teacher Track

Neesha Jackson is a third grade teacher at Paramount Cottage Home. She was brand-new to Paramount last year but is far from a brand-new teacher. Being fresh to Paramount, she started last year in the New Teacher Academy track. “Even though I wasn’t a brand-new educator, I still did the New Teacher Academy to learn how Paramount works and what systems they use.”

With her background, evaluation scores and demonstrated ability, Jackson only stayed in the New Teacher Track for one year, whereas most new-to-Paramount teachers remain in that track for two years. She switched to the Master Teacher track this year, which “Goes more in-depth and we are able to learn more about the background behind our observations. We also get to observe other teachers as part of this track and dive into data.”

Paramount hosts master teacher meetings monthly and teachers complete pre-work before each meeting. One recent meeting focused on how Paramount conducts teacher observations. Jackson described the protocol by sharing, “For the observation, we needed to look at the rubric for how we would rate the teacher we observed. Then we compared observation notes with our coach to see how we each rated them.”

Jackson knows the power of this structure from being observed herself as a teacher. “Feedback is specific and something I can immediately put into action,” Jackson said. Compared to previous teaching roles, Jackson stated that feedback at Paramount is “more applicable, pertinent, and makes sense.” 

Stephen Kirk, Administrator Track

Stephen Kirk started with the network as a founding teacher at Paramount Englewood, hired straight out of college. Now in his fourth year, he’s leading Englewood’s middle school ELA team. In this role, he coordinates the language arts team, making sure they are aligned, providing assistance and coaching. 

Having started as a teacher and now serving as a team lead, Kirk is on Paramount’s Administrator Track and hopes to someday fill a role as an assistant principal, principal, or another administrator role. For Kirk, “Paramount has been the dream job coming out of college. They give me so much feedback.” 

During his first year, he recalls being observed weekly if not more often, with those observations followed by direct, actionable feedback. The development he received led to opportunities to help develop other Paramount educators. In his fourth year, he is “Helping coach other teachers in the Paramount way and system. As I move up, I can give back.”

Coaching other teachers after only four years in the classroom may seem early to some in education. But it’s really a testament to the accelerated growth Paramount offers its teachers. Kirk put it this way: “Since you are constantly being observed and given feedback, it accelerates your growth.” 

This coaching and development model prioritizes relevance and near-peer mentorship. As Kirk explained, “I understand what brand-new teachers are going because I was there not so long ago. Their pitfalls are things I recently experienced and I can speak into concerns or areas of growth that they need.”

He pointed to the strength of their internal pipeline as another factor that reinforces why Paramount is a great place to be a teacher. Last year, he saw their fifth grade team lead become an assistant principal. It’s not at all uncommon for Paramount to grow their own. “If you want to move up, you can. It’s cool to see colleagues grow. Paramount cares about our future plans and wants to help make them happen if you put in the work.”

Kassandra Fuqua, Hybrid Track

Kassandra Fuqua is the kindergarten team lead at Paramount Brookside. She’s been with the school since 2019. She is currently on a hybrid track that combines the Master Teacher and Administrator tracks into a cohesive experience. 

One way this track has accelerated her development is by giving her a window beyond just the kindergarten team as part of her Master Teacher track programming. “It’s allowed me to experience how things are done in other grades,” she noted. “In kindergarten it looks like this, but in third grade it looks like this. That collaboration has been powerful and important.” That collaboration has shown how to shift routines in kindergarten to better align with higher grades as a means of preparing students for what is coming up in future years. 

Those opportunities for collaboration are matched by support from veteran teachers in the Master Teacher track. “Veteran teachers lead the meetings and offer experiences from their time spent in the classrooms. It is easier to get advice and guidance from someone who has been where you are and can speak to obstacles they’ve overcome at Paramount.” In summary, Fuqua believes “The system is working.”

Throughout her time at Paramount, her experience in the teacher pathways has always been bolstered by the presence and support of administrators. “The Paramount approach is better than previous experiences. Admin is so hands-on and has an open-door policy. Any questions I have, I can go directly to them and they will either help or connect me to someone who can. In a previous role years ago, I had no direct access to my admin. I had to go through a process to get time with them.”

Retaining and Developing Great Talent in Service of Student Outcomes

The purpose of Paramount’s teacher pathways are twofold: develop and retain quality educators in order to continue producing transformational student outcomes. Many different factors play into why Paramount remains one of the highest-performing networks in Indianapolis. One of them is surely their approach to talent development. 

We thank the incredible educators of Paramount Schools of Excellence for sharing their experience: Neesha Jackson, 3rd Grade- Master Teacher Track; Stephen Kirk, 6-8 ELA- Administrator Track; and Kassandra Fuqua, Kindergarten- Hybrid Track.