Team Spotlight: Meet Jeremy Abarno

Today I’d like to introduce you to Hendy’s Jeremy Abarno. Jeremy is an exceptional teammate who joined us in 2019 and brings an incredible ability to really see people and help them meet their goals. He also truly loves to geek out on math instruction and loves a good number story! Jeremy is currently supporting both the Chicago Public Schools and Hebrew Public Schools. He is the leader of our Chief Talent Officer Cohort, bringing together transformational leaders from eight NYC charter school networks. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about our awesome Jeremy Abarno.

Why did you choose to work in education? 
I actually decided that I wanted to teach in high school. At that time I lived in a small rural town in Oregon. My high school started a program called “cadet teaching” where I was able to observe and contribute to Ms. Blitzer’s kindergarten classroom by supporting individual students with phonics, counting and learning how to be friends. My attention quickly turned to Agustín, a bright and playful student who joined the class mid-year and spoke Spanish exclusively. There was no formal ESL program in the school and a volunteer translator would come in for a few hours once a week as there were no other bilingual staff in the school. As a result, Agustín and his siblings did not have meaningful access to the curriculum and it was on him to “figure it out”.  I worked with Agustín and his siblings occasionally and he made some important gains. I was appalled, it was unjust that a 17-year old was one of the only ways that Agustín and his family had meaningful access to the curriculum. Nobody had bad intentions but they had built a system that didn’t include kids like him. As I studied education and started my career in NYC public schools it became increasingly apparent that there were millions of kids across our country who didn’t have access and it was causing them harm. That sealed the deal and I have been in education for more than 20 years now. 

What’s your favorite part of your job? 
I believe deeply that intentional self development and growth leads to one being able to collaborate better. And those are, by far, my two favorite parts of the job. At Hendy Avenue, our job with educational partners is to collaborate, arm-in-arm, to help them solve problems, answer tough questions, build capacity and create systems and/or content. To be a good partner, I have to improve myself on a regular basis – I need to read, research, simplify complex things, improve facilitation and more. The cool thing about it is that the more I improve, the better I am at supporting our partners. It doesn’t stop there because our partners are school and systems leaders and the better they get, the more teachers and students benefit and thrive. Adopting this mindset of continuous improvement and collaborating with very talented leaders is just a virtuous cycle and it’s the kind of thing our schools need as they fight to end inequity. 

What’s the problem in education you most want to solve?
There is a vicious two-pronged problem that I think plagues education and while it’s not the only one, I think it is central. It is when pedagogy and professional development don’t match our beliefs about what kids are capable of. Too often, pedagogical approaches, often dictated by curricular resources we use or training resources we adopt, don’t actually match our beliefs about what kids need to thrive. For example, most schools, districts, and networks express that they believe that ALL kids have the potential to achieve at high levels with high expectations, the right support and effective teachers. These institutions often express that students should be problem solvers, critical thinkers and should have opportunities to apply 21st century skills in real ways. However, these same institutions select (or are mandated to use) curricula, pedagogical approaches and teacher training resources that are misaligned with their goals for kids. This is not only challenging for teachers because what we say we value isn’t mirrored in our actions but it is also damaging for kids because without this alignment they are less likely to develop those critical skills, competencies and mindsets. We need teacher training, pedagogy and curriculum that matches what KNOW our kids are capable of.

What’s a favorite book or quote?
That’s like picking a favorite child…I can’t do it but I do have one book, one article and one quote that have been really helpful in my thinking lately: 

  • Colson Whitehead’s “Underground Railroad” is a blistering novel that forces you to consider the darkest part of America’s history of racism and how it is playing out today. 
  • This quote from Stockdale has helped me be honest about the state of our country right now: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be
  • This article from Ronald Heifitz on Adaptive Leadership from HBR is proving mighty valuable right now when thinking about leading during what seems like a never-ending crisis. 

What do you like to do outside of work? 
I love family time. I have an amazing wife Eve, three amazing kids, Marlon, Lucia, and Vivian, and some amazing friends. We do a lot of things together: go to the beach, cook, break bread, cycle, feel feelings, cuddle, maraud (mainly my 6-year-old Vivian and with the best of intentions), and fight for racial equality and inclusion of people with disabilities. Whatever we are doing I get deep emotional fulfillment out of doing it together.