Learning A+: A New Hire's Perspective

February 4, 2021

Joseph PerezWhat an astounding couple of months I have had working with A+ Schools; a start which has truly been a period underscored by the experience of growth. I came onboard in October of 2020, the year we were all glad to leave behind us. It was a refreshing change for me to start here, to say the least. I had been interviewed and tentatively offered the job earlier last year before the outbreak of COVID-19 impacted us all. By the time the virus reached North Carolina, the hiring process had been put on hold and I had accepted another position working as a victim’s advocate with a district attorney’s office in eastern N.C. When hiring resumed in the fall, I felt invigorated to leave my old position behind; I had just completed my M.A. and I was eager to take up a career where I could utilize my mind and creative potential. The opportunity to be part of the A+ Schools team felt like a culmination of everything I had dreamed of while putting myself through school. With modest thought and complete confidence, I took the job, packing my family and my dog into the car in the middle of a pandemic and leaving to make a new life for myself in Raleigh.

There was a lot of excitement in the transition of roles, along with an almost overwhelming amount of new information to process. I had never onboarded with a new organization virtually, and I found that I had a lot of knowledge to gain. Despite the challenges of starting a new job under these restrictions, I rejuvenated myself during this time of transition with the self assurance and conviction that I was up to the task.

After meeting and conversing with other staff members of the N.C. Arts Council, under which A+ Schools resJoseph Perez in Tibetides, I became somewhat intimidated. It was apparent the people with whom I was working were all amazing folks filled with insight regarding the arts; many were accomplished artists in their own right. Despite my formidable and yet eclectic background, I would need to accumulate even more knowledge and know-how if I were to give this role all that I was capable of. I have a plethora of leadership experience and was no stranger to the university classroom, with my own ambitions to return to school one day to complete a PhD in the study of Eastern Religions. Working in this environment was a new experience for me, however. I cannot recall a time in my life when, despite my background leading and facilitating classrooms, I ever thought I would be able to work with a state organization to specifically help institute an arts-based curriculum.

I set out to learn as much as I could, spending the next several weeks gulping up all the information pertaining to A+ Schools, the N.C. Arts Council and arts education which I could find. Webinars, talks, podcasts and articles concerning our state’s arts programs became both my professional and personal life during that time, and I endeavored to gain as much insight into these subjects as I could, all while orienting myself to my new position with A+ and the duties that came with it. I was excited with my new role and spent a lot of my free time perusing the backend of the A+ website, digging through the A+ U modules and sifting through information kept by the Arts Council, looking through all the information I could find which would help me find my place within the A+ Schools network.

Being hired to such a largely administrative role, I was warmly surprised that A+ Schools Program Director Michelle Burrows and the others with whom I work shared so much encouragement regarding my pursuit of new knowledge. The A+ team supported me in taking as much time needed to find my place, fostering an environment which revolved foremost around learning. I quickly saw how approachable the staff here at A+ Schools is, and how dedicated they are in helping individuals (whether they be a co-worker, teacher or student) reach their potential. This further cemented my conviction that I had made the right choice in taking this position and was in the right place.

Classroom door - Be CreativeAs I drank in as much knowledge as I could concerning our organization—and more broadly, the field of arts education—it became increasingly apparent that the work I am doing here at A+ Schools, while administrative in nature, is an important cog in a mechanism which is critical to the creation and preservation of both budding young artists and stronger school systems. I began to see firsthand the positive influence that A+ Schools instills within its network of teachers, and I saw that the reputation of our organization was hard-earned through the work my team has been doing on a day-to-day basis. Even amidst the changed structure wrought by a pandemic, the staff has been diligently improvising and creating new ways to reach teachers so that teachers can then engage their students in unique ways. I am proud to witness, on a daily basis, the dedication and enthusiasm of my A+ coworkers. The teachers in our network are equally invested, attending training events and talks en masse and completing units via our online module, A+ U. Seeing this level of commitment throughout our network has left me with no doubts as to the efficacy of our mission; and although I am not in a position where I can directly see the benefits obtained by the students in our network, I am sure they are enriched by the experience of being students at an A+ school.

Joseph Perez with young sonThinking back on my childhood and recent learning as an adult, I have questioned why there has not been a greater effort to blend the creative arts with state standards at all levels of learning. As a parent, I have made a conscious effort to try to instill more creativity in my own child who is currently learning from home. By doing so, I have seen him approach education with much more enthusiasm and understanding.

As I have begun to meet more people in earnest—the people whom I have the pleasure to call co-workers, our amazing A+ Fellows, even the teachers and principals with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing a Zoom room—I have seen that to be part of this network is truly a special thing and an amazing opportunity. I am proud, enlivened and overjoyed to be one small part of this organization which can do so much good for our schools, for our teachers and, most importantly, for our students.