Fall is here and so is the back-to-school season. The work that educators do to ensure our children’s success is a thankless job. Chief Academic Officer at Concentric Educational Solutions spoke to Sheen about her experience in the education field and how it relates to her current role
What got you interested in the education field and what motivates you to stay in the field?
I grew up in East Orange, NJ to a teenage mom and incarcerated father, during the 1980s crack epidemic. My home life was at times unstable and uncertain, but school was always a place I could depend on to be loving and nurturing. My teachers and principal poured into me, cultivated my gifts, and exposed me to the infinite possibilities of life. I was hooked! I felt like they saved my life. If you put my early childhood circumstances on paper, the odds say I wasn’t supposed to make it this far. I became a teacher because I wanted to provide the same guidance and nurturing that I had as a child, in hopes of ushering others to success. Being a keeper of the village motivates me to stay in the field; there are thousands of children who have the potential to be the most elite version of themselves. They need adults like me to pave the way for them and to teach them to knock the barriers out of the way!
Tell us about Concentric Education Solutions and your role. Concentric Educational Solutions is an organization that takes a holistic approach to support students by mitigating the barriers to their success.
Concentric Educational Solutions started with the belief that ALL students deserve not only a quality education, but they also deserve non-instructional supports that are necessary for success. There is no singular solution. Rather, it’s a concerted effort to continuously support students regardless of their background or how long it may take. The mission of Concentric is to support students, families, and schools by identifying barriers that negatively impact education and providing resources and services to improve student outcomes.
We do this by focusing on our core services:
- Home Visits
- Mentoring and Tutoring
- Professional Development
- School Culture and Climate
- Student Support Services
- Technical Assistance
- Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS)
- Social & Emotional Learning
As the Chief Academic Officer, I provide administrative and strategic oversight in developing, achieving, and maintaining the best educational programs and services for all clients; responsible for the implementation and completion of short and long-term educational plans; responsible to lead the growth and development of educational services; maintains close day-to-day supervision/interaction with school principals and assigned administrators; combines strategic thinking and strong execution skills across all education content areas and works within the policies, regulations, and objectives outlined by Board of Education; will ensure that effective education management practices are in place and used throughout the engagement.
The grand opening to the Concentric Education Solutions Offices is happening soon, what are some things we can expect to see from the grand opening and the team overall?
Concentric is opening the doors of our office building in the Federal Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, MD on August 19, 2022. This has been a long time coming! Our office building features conference room space, offices, and communal workspaces for our staff. The grand opening will be curated by the illustrious Tiffanie Event Planner of Bird of Paradise Events and will feature music by the infamous DJ Hi Def. Our team is preparing to participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony, read proclamations and citations from local government officials, enjoy cuisine from a Baltimore-based caterer, and fellowship with community members.
Tell us about growing up in your hometown as a young child from your perspective and how it is now for the youth growing up there.
I moved to Maryland at the age of 13 but I am a Jersey Girl at heart. I returned home every other month for the first few years, so I still claim East Orange as my hometown. I grew up during the era of the crack epidemic in the early 80s. My neighborhood shifted from a place where young working middle-class families owned homes and raised each others’ children to drugs and violence dominating our streets. My friends and I lost our parents to addiction, incarceration, and violence. Our local government put programs in place such as recreation and parks, social groups, and community schools to provide wraparound support to our children, including my generation. Many of us took advantage of the opportunities and were able to go back and serve. My hometown is still struggling amid the challenges of drugs, violence, and incarceration. My childhood friends have remained home and have grown into the teachers, principals, police officers, and the like that are actively working to change the trajectory for our youth.
With Concentric being located in Baltimore and Detroit with talks of expansion in Atlanta, how do you juggle your workload and still have time to have a personal life?
Juggling my workload? What’s that? LOL, I live on my calendar app. Every single task I have to do, professionally and personally, is located on my calendar. My mantra is if it isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. Functioning like this keeps me on track when I have urgent needs pop up or changing deadlines. I’m also a firm believer in working hard so I can play harder. Since I work with school systems, off time isn’t common, so I’m sure that I maximize my weekend time. I will take a 36-hour vacay and fly to another state for a few hours just to decompress, come back to work on Monday ready to perform at a high level.
Starting up in 2020, did you think you would be here in 2022? What do the next steps look like for Concentric Education Solutions after the grand opening?
Concentric Educational Solutions was founded in 2010. Our CEO, Dr. David Heiber, had the vision to connect directly with families at their homes to understand the barriers to our children showing up in school. The last 12 years have transformed into a holistic approach to supporting our children. I am an optimist and I learned about the company as a principal. After just one discussion with Dr. Heiber, I knew he was passionate about his mission and we partnered for the next 4 years. The information that our Professional Student Advocates brought back to my school attendance team was invaluable. The data enabled us to strategize and address our students’ needs. As a result of actually experiencing success, I knew that Concentric Educational Solutions would be here in 2022. I believe we are doing spiritual work, changing the narrative for children across the country, thereby impacting generations to come. After the grand opening, we will embark upon our first school year with over 100 employees in over 7 school districts. We plan to actualize our vision, implement our strategy, reflect, innovate, and adjust as necessary.
We know you love to read, what are three books that you identify with that you can also recommend to our Sheen readers?
My mentor, Dr. Heiber taught me what his mentor taught him, “You should always be reading 3 books at a time, one for your personal growth, one for your professional growth, and one for pleasure.”
- Personal Growth- ”What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry
- Professional Growth- “Selling the Invisible” by Harry Beckwith
- Pleasure Reading- ”Yinka, Where is your Husband?” by Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
How do you apply the “Next Level” message to your everyday life?
I consistently reflect on my thoughts, words, behaviors, and actions and I ask myself:
What can you do better? Are you being complacent? Are you putting forth my all? Are you performing at an elite level?
Every day I strive to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday. The Next Level is about taking it up a notch, never settling, and doing the work to perform at an elite level. It literally takes one step to get to the next level, but you have to do the work!
How do you control your emotions when going into a home or situation with a family who may have close to nothing and trying to find a way to still help their children’s education expand further?
I am in a unique situation as an educator and advocate for children who has also lived through many of the traumatic events that plague our inner cities. Consequently, I feel a deep level of empathy for some of the conditions I’ve become privy to because I know the emotions, fear, and uncertainty, firsthand. As such, I’m relentless in my approach to supporting our families who have close to nothing. I control my emotions by putting my children’s and their families’ needs first, putting myself aside, and actively listening. I remain solutions-oriented and laser-focused on gathering the information I need to support them. To address my secondary trauma, I meet with my psychotherapist on a weekly basis. Yes, this woman seeks help! Over the years, I’ve been the liaison between families and school communities, I’ve assisted with laying children to rest, court sentencings, family grief, and loss, all kinds of things. It can truly take a toll on you if you don’t seek help.
How do you practice self-care?
I am so in love with myself. I have a regular fitness routine that includes visiting the gym at least 4 times per week, avoiding foods that don’t love me back, and sitting in the sauna at least 2 times per week. During my sauna time, I listen to my recorded prayer and meditate.
I also schedule time for massage, nails/feet, waxing, and hair. Now I know the last three are non-negotiables but as busy as I am if I don’t prioritize these appointments they won’t happen. So while I’m caring for myself, I don’t use my cell phone or laptop. I check out and use the time to think, breathe, and enjoy myself.
What is some advice you would give to your 8-year-old self?
My 8-year-old self was classified as morbidly obese, didn’t have many friends, was bullied for my weight and lighter skin tone, and longed for my parents. I would tell Nikki AKA Munch:
Baby girl you are worthy, you are more gifted than you know, you are loved, and you are beautiful. Take your time to learn who you are, and what you like, and create the kind of life you want. Don’t be so quick to people please, they will like you and if they don’t they aren’t supposed to be a part of your tribe.
Children are becoming afraid to attend school because of mass shootings, how do you all handle these fears and anxieties?
Concentric Educational Solutions provides schools with Professional Student Advocates who serve as caring and nurturing adults. We help children overcome their fears by helping to create conditions that feel safe, loving, and secure. Consistently showing up every day for our children proves to them that there are some things in life they can count on! We engage in deep discussions with our students to get to know them and allow them to know us. Even though we can’t control the possibility of someone engaging in a mass shooting, we can help our children feel safe. The deep connections we build with our children helps them feel comfortable sharing their fears and anxieties. We are then able to help them process and provide them with what they need to assure them that they are safe.
If you weren’t in the education field, what field would you be interested in working in?
I would totally be a pediatrician. I absolutely love children. I also enjoy learning about body systems and how to heal.
Where can we learn more about the Concentric Education Solutions team?
Please feel free to visit our website: www.concentriced.org