Since early 2018, we have had the pleasure of partnering with KairosPDX through our Common Good initiative. Much has transpired since our last update on Kairos, so we took a moment to chat with CEO Marsha Williams to discuss how things have been going and to learn more about what lies ahead for KairosPDX.
Good: Hi Marsha, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions about Kairos and what has been happening within your organization for the last few years. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Kairos and how long you have been participating in the mission and vision here?
Marsha: I have a background in health research, and when my husband and I decided we were going to have children in Portland I was floored by the data I was seeing in regard to the success rates in early education for black and brown children in this state. I knew then that if change wasn’t happening, I would have to make that happen. Our organization name comes from the Greek word kairos, which means a special moment in time. And it was. I had been connected through a mutual friend to an amazing group of women who were educators and community activists, who wanted to create positive change and outcomes for black students. We collaborated to found our organization, which has now expanded from a public charter school to one that encompasses a training academy for professionals and other organizations, as well as engaging in government affairs and advocacy for measures we believe serve our community. In my time here, I’ve served as Operations Director, Board Chair and now Chief Executive Officer. In addition to my work at KairosPDX, I also am a board member at the Coalition of Communities of Color, Financial Executives Alliance, Oregon Roundtable for Health and Education, and a Trustee on the Board of Warner Pacific University - all of which help inform the work I do at KairosPDX.
Good: Tell us a little bit about that transition to CEO at Kairos. Were there unexpected challenges or was it more of a natural transition for you?
Marsha: Making judgments on a bigger scale than previously has been the most noticeable shift. I've improved my strategic thinking skills by putting less emphasis on daily operations and my ability to lead and guide a larger group of individuals, which may be challenging if you're used to leading a smaller group. Being the CEO comes with increased responsibility, but I've had the support of incredible colleagues and experience throughout my career that have helped me prepare to take on challenging and complicated responsibilities. All those facets help steward our purpose.
Good: Obviously the last few years have been difficult for many people in our city, our local schools and children especially. What unique challenges is Kairos seeing and how are you facing them. In both the context of the school but also on the policy and advocacy side of things?
Marsha: We are making strides towards an equitable system for education, but there is a lot of work to be done. There are still significant disparities between different populations, the high quality educational opportunities they have access to, and the resources they receive even before children step foot in a classroom. With the right dedication and commitment by all stakeholders—educators, parents, administrators, policymakers, and communities—we can move closer to creating an equitable system of public education. One of the biggest barriers to creating an equitable system for education is acknowledging the need to support students with a holistic approach to education that addresses the whole child with access to all needed resources. We should invest in providing teacher training programs, and expanding access to early childhood education to ensure high expectations of students are maintained. Additionally, we need to vigilantly address systemic racism that still exists in many educational systems, and provide more opportunities for students of color and other marginalized groups.
Good: Kairos just reached its ten year anniversary - congrats! That is a huge milestone, but I'm sure it's just the beginning of the story at Kainos. Looking forward what dreams and goals do you have for the next ten years at Kairos?
Marsha: Some of our goals for the next ten years include but are not limited to:
- Creating a new mission statement as a result of fulfilling our current one
- Increase access to anti-bias and anti-racism curriculum and resources for early education professionals
- Develop and implement a comprehensive plan to recruit and retain a diverse pool of early education professionals and volunteers
- Advocate for policies that support and promote equitable access to early education for all children
- Expand access to early childhood education programs in underserved communities
- Create and support community-based collaborations that address early education disparities
- Promote and support the use of culturally specific and respectful teaching practices
- Develop and implement strategies to promote positive racial identity development in early childhood
- Advocate for adequate and equitable funding of early education programs
- Increase access to early education programs for families of all backgrounds
- Create and implement programming that increases public awareness of the importance of early education and its role in addressing racial disparities
Good: If someone wants to participate and support Kairos mission, what are a few practical ways to take the next steps?
Marsha: We want you to join us in our work! Visit our website to get in touch with us if you're interested in investing in us, becoming an ambassador, volunteering at one of our events, partnering with us, or exploring the possibility of bringing DEI trainings to your organization through our Training Academy. Anyone who is dedicated to creating a world that is more just and compassionate is welcome here.
Learn more about KairosPDX here: KairosPDX.org
Learn more about our Common Good Partnership with KairosPDX here: Common Good