Jamie Chlystek of Pittsburgh has spent the majority of her career in education with the Propel charter schools and can't see herself working anywhere else.
After spending eight years as a teacher at Propel McKeesport, she stepped into a new position in June as assistant principal at Propel Montour in Kennedy.
Ms. Chlystek began her career with Propel at McKeesport before the school was up and running. She said the building was an empty shell when she came on board, but it was all hands on deck as cafeteria workers, custodians, teachers and principals pitched in to make the school their own.
It was an experience that she described as amazing and challenging.
"I wish all teachers, regardless of where they are in their career, could open a building," she said. "You learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about your beliefs in school and education, and what really matters."
Ms. Chlystek held a variety of positions at the school, including teaching special education, sixth-grade language arts and eighth grade. She said Propel does a great job of recognizing the strengths of the staff and she believes the school gave her an opportunity to grow until ultimately she began to see herself as a teacher leader.
When the position opened up at Montour, Ms. Chlystek said she felt it was time for her to move into educational leadership. She said it was hard to leave the McKeesport school after how much she had invested into it, but she felt very encouraged and supported.
Although her duties now extend beyond the classroom, she said one of the greatest strengths of the Propel organization is that the principals are instructional leaders and are able to go into classrooms and help plan and collaborate with teachers.
She said the school has a diverse population of teachers with a range of experience, which is important.
"I feel that our teachers are very well-rounded and regardless of where they fall in that continuum of learning, they are all very excited about trying new things," she said. "The fact that we do have principals and coaches who are in the classroom teaching with the teachers makes it a very successful environment."
She said the school is not for everybody because it is demanding and requires creativity and innovation because students come from a variety of backgrounds.
She said she tells her teachers that they may not immediately reap the benefits of all of the effort they have invested in their students, but often they will see the transformation when the students return and express their gratitude.
"We are definitely their stepping stones and as much as we're about education, we are really creating individuals who can be successful once they leave an educational setting," she said.
Ms. Chlystek said she is proud to work for Propel and it's not just a job but a part of her life.
"The one thing that really keeps me driven and keeps me coming back day after day and year after year is the fact that there are so many people that care about these kids," she said. "I couldn't see myself working in a different place, and I'm really excited to be a part of the Montour team as well."
Shannon M. Nass, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published October 17, 2013 12:55 AM