Founding School Leader
Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy
Following her graduation from Hampton University, Tara joined the New Teacher Project (TNTP) and taught middle school English and Language Arts in Shreveport, Louisiana. It was here that she developed a middle school all-girls mentoring program that focused on mindfulness, college preparation, and community service. Tara then joined KIPP Voyage Academy for Girls in Houston, where she taught U.S. History and served as a History and later an English content lead, responsible for supporting and developing teachers in both disciplines. She also led school-wide culture systems as Dean of Restorative Justice and Culture. Her implementation of school-wide restorative practices at led to out of school suspensions decreasing by half in a single year. Ms. Haskins has recently served as Assistant Principal where she led a broad array of academic and cultural functions. For example, her leadership of the implementation of a standards-aligned English Language Arts curriculum led to students and staff achieving 2020 academic goals two years ahead of schedule. Tara is honored to continue to work in partnership with families and members of the KC community to amplify the voices of the young women at Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy.
What from your previous roles and experience prepared you for your role in an exclusively female school?
I have had the honor of serving as a History teacher, Dean of Restorative Justice & Culture, as well as an Assistant Principal at a single gender school for girls in Houston, TX. My experience in Houston allowed me to see what happens when sisterhood is intentionally cultivated.
As a Dean of Restorative Justice and Culture, I worked with an incredible team to implement a restorative program that focused on weekly community circles. We knew that giving scholars an intentional space to share their stories was the first step towards healing as a community. After summer learning, continuous staff development, and strategic prioritizing, the program had amazing results. By the end of our first year of implementation, schoolwide circles were implemented, school suspensions decreased by 50%, and students were self-advocating for circles as a safe space to rebuild relationships. The most important gift from that experience was being able to watch sisterhood intentionally grow. My former scholars who were in my advisory in Houston are still friends today. In fact, I have a pair of scholars who were roommates in college freshman year. When I check in, they remind me that their time in middle school helped them see why sisterhood is vital.
My first year of teaching in Shreveport, Louisiana was instrumental to who I am as an educator. It was here that I learned the value of community and the importance of listening to student voice. During this time, it was well known that I was a firm, yet fair teacher. I recall a parent who volunteered at the school taking the time to meet with me during my planning period. She said, “Ms. Haskins I know that you love scholars. I see you at their football games. I see you helping them with their homework after school. But they would not know you love them based on how you respond to them in class.” This moment helped me reflect on my approach and beliefs on creating a space where students could thrive.
From that moment, I committed to always honoring the power of children and families as the first teachers of our students. In fact, that parent helped me create an all-girls mentoring program at that very school! She connected me to community members, helped me learn the history of Shreveport, and made sure that love was the center of every decision I made for the mentoring program. I always say that my greatest teacher in education is that parent. She taught me the power of love and how love needs to be felt in all that we do.
What has been one of your greatest learnings in taking on a new principalship in a single sex school, especially as you were new to KC?
One of the greatest learnings in taking on a new principalship in a single gender school is recognizing that love should be at the center of every decision. I know that that’s often not what you would expect to hear. However, taking the time to create intentional spaces of love and community has been our foundation since we opened our doors to KC Girls Prep. Ensuring that our scholars are seen, felt, and heard at all times happens with intentional planning, collaboration, and listening.
As an individual new to Kansas City, I recognize that in order to serve our community I had to take the time to learn more about our community. Learning what love looks like to our families in Kansas City and how we as a school can support students with achieving anything their heart desires has always been our goal. Before our school opened, I would intentionally ask community members two questions.
1) What are your hopes and dreams for the young women of KC?
2) What are the most beautiful parts, stories, and history of your community?
No matter who I spoke to, no matter where I was, it was clear that members of our community understood the power of our youth. These stories helped me really shape the experiences that our scholars needed to have day in and day out to meet the love that the community has for them. I heard that they wanted teachers who reflected our students, they wanted to make sure students had the opportunity to build positive relationships, and they wanted students have knowledge of their history. This helped shape our hiring practices, curriculum choices, and our Pride model.
What has stood out to you regarding what girls have been able to accomplish at Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy? What have you experienced as the real asset for the young women that really surprised you?
When I think of all that our scholars have been able to accomplish at KC Girls Prep, I am immediately filled with joy. We can all agree that this past year has been a challenging one. Despite the many changes and adjustments, the sisterhood that our scholars have created stands true. I have witnessed students advocate for peers who are not present in online learning, speak out against injustice, and model our commitment of leaving no community member behind.
The real asset for our young women is sisterhood with a purpose. At the beginning of the year, we were given the opportunity to have murals placed on our walls. One thing we knew we wanted was the make sure the art reflected our scholars and their stories. Thanks to Starland and Spray KC, our scholars were able to participate in a design challenge to ensure that their voices served as the foundation of each design. During the challenge, I watched as scholars who had never met in person, united to form what they believed their stories were. The murals are a perfect display of what is possible when love and unwavering sisterhood serve as the core of all that you do. Most importantly, it is a testament to what happens when you attune to the voices of our youth.
What have you learned about yourself in helping young women grow? How has this bolstered you?
Helping young women grow has taught me the value of gratitude. Accepting the responsibility of serving families, students, and staff is an honor that I do not take lightly. As such, it is vital to always make time to show gratitude to others. I end each day with writing down two things, people, or moments I am grateful for. I then schedule time to explicitly share that gratitude with others. Doing this daily has helped me slow down and attune to the positive moments in my life. When young women see this, they are able to see that bringing joy to others can change a community.
For Women’s History Month, who have been your female role models, and what advice would you pass on to other young women in education?
My mother and my older sister have served as my role models since I could remember. At a young age, I realized early on that my mother is a superhero. Despite the many changes that came with being a military child, my mother made sure that we had moments of joy in all that we do. Also, I watched as she balanced caring for others and using her courage to speak out against anything that did not sit right with her beliefs.
My sister Barbara has served as my role model since I could remember. She was the first of my siblings to graduate college, pursue a masters degree, and receive a doctorate degree. One of the most pivotal moments in my life was when my sister invited me to attend an event at Norfolk State University. Her school was a local Historically Black College and University (HBCU). The day she took me on campus, I immediately felt fulfilled as I watched a campus full of people who looked like me. The pride that radiated throughout that day reminds me of what happens when you intentionally create spaces for community, joy, and liberation.
That moment was pivotal for my decision to attend an HBCU for undergrad. To this day, my sister and I always share how our experiences at an HBCU prepared us to not only lead, but also use our gifts to serve our community.
Advice that I would pass on to other young women in education is to always remember that your authentic story is an asset. Always make sure that you are able to bring your authentic self to every space that you enter. If there is ever a moment you feel you cannot be yourself, speak up and speak out! When you use your voice, change will follow soon after.