Women at KIPP: Weighing In on Leaning In

Sehba Ali, Superintendent, KIPP Houston Public Schools

By Zoe Fenson, KIPP Foundation Writer

We’re celebrating Women’s History Month at KIPP by highlighting the women who are making history throughout our network: our educators and leaders. In Part 2 of our Women at KIPP blog series (read Part 1 here), KIPP’s female executives share the moments where they’ve “leaned into” their careers.


Did you ever have a “lean in” moment that was a crucial point in your career? If so, what was it?

Yes—it was taking this role.  I agonized over it for a few reasons, not the least of which was what it would mean for our family and our children.  And then I thought: what am I trying to teach them? Find the thing you are most passionate about, and then nevertheless become an independent consultant?
Allison Ohle, Executive Director, KIPP San Diego


Over the last 14 years at KIPP, I have been continuously surrounded by female role models who lead while being committed mothers, wives, daughters, and friends. In Houston, however, I am one of only a few female Superintendents in the greater metropolitan area. As a five-foot-tall woman of color, I find myself “leaning in” on a daily basis to make sure my voice is heard.
Sehba Ali, Superintendent, KIPP Houston Public Schools (pictured above)


I had a wonderful boss who sensed I was wavering with the lean in/lean out challenge. I was a mom of a toddler, working full-time and questioning if I wanted to continue on that pace. He challenged me to take a bigger, higher profile role. I wavered, but he believed that I could do it and offered me a flexible schedule – as long as the work got done with high quality, the hours in the office were not of consequence.  His trust in me led me to work even harder than I had before on a project and as part of a team that remains one of my professional highlights, without the personal sacrifice that I feared.
Sarah Hughes, Chief of Staff, KIPP LA Schools


When I faced challenges in the opening weeks of my founding year as a school leader, I made the choice to lean into my career. I had to stand firm in my beliefs and have faith in the programming I had designed for the school. It helped me to own my role as an educator, an administrator, and an owner of my vision in helping bring quality learning experiences to all students.
Jennifer Zinn, Chief Academic Officer, KIPP San Antonio


I accepted a position to become CEO of a company even though I had never run a company before. Embracing the opportunity and putting myself out there pushed me way beyond my boundaries and challenged me in every way possible. It was hard but I emerged from the experience with a true understanding of myself and belief in what I could do. I don’t think I could have grown as much if I hadn’t tried something so far outside my comfort level.
Judy Lin, Chief Operating Officer, KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools


I had three children over the course of four years at the same time that KIPP DC was experiencing a period of pretty rapid growth. There was lots of “leaning in” during that time and I am really proud of what I was able to pull off with limited sleep and caffeine, and of course an amazing and supportive team.
Allison Fansler, President and Chief Operating Officer, KIPP DC


I had just finished reading Lean In when I decided to apply to be the COO of KIPP ENC. I thought to myself, “I can do this job, but it might be too early in my career, and I might not be fully qualified.” Even with doubts, I applied and am grateful for the women who took a chance and hired me. I hope that I will continue to take worthy risks and humbly receive feedback to grow.
Dawn Arthur, Chief Operating Officer, KIPP Eastern North Carolina


Next time: How we’re supporting women leaders.


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