KIPP Sol Academy Dean and founding school team member, César Alfaro, was born and raised in South Los Angeles, where he mainly attended schools in the Watts and Florence-Firestone communities.
His upbringing helped create a deep appreciation for the beauty of his community, an environment rich in history and built on a culture of faith and perseverance. And though these strengths were true, the educational inequities and the limited access to resources were also a reality within his community.
From a young age, César recalls the broken relationship that many of his peers had with the educational system. Rather than focusing on their studies, the focus often gravitated toward developing friendships and maintaining social hierarchies. It wasn't until César was older that he could more tangibly understand how systemic inequities negatively impact learning outcomes, making it difficult for him and his peers to prioritize their education.
"As a kid, you don't process how you're short-changed. Systemic inequities operate so covertly that, as a teen, you don't have the language or lens to be able to identify them. And when you don't have a strong adult culture (teacher advocates), your educational experience becomes very sub-par," he said. "There's a huge risk of simply becoming a statistic."
By the time César was in high school, he had figured out how to maintain and balance his social life and academics by committing to being a student-athlete. During this time, he also bonded strongly with his homeroom teacher, Stephen, who quickly became a mentor and friend.
Stephen, who identified with César in many ways, encouraged him to push through life's challenges and see them as opportunities. Whether they talked about baseball or their ambitions, César was grateful to have authentic conversations and connect with someone with similar experiences, even if he didn't realize its impact then.
"It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized the power of representation," said César. "Having an educator, mentor, and ally who looked like me proved to be invaluable. It subconsciously challenged the status quo and what it means to be a man of color in a professional setting."
César graduated top of his high school class and pursued his higher learning education at California State University, Dominguez Hills, where he majored with a degree in kinesiology and exercise science. Upon graduating, he was determined to find a career that would allow him to give back to his community.
"It's important to pay it forward to students who look like me," he said. "We need our students to see counter-narratives to the statistics that feed a broken system and who believe in our students' potential unconditionally."
His mentor, Stephen, connected him with KIPP Sol's Founding School Leader, Rachelle Minix, who was in the process of hiring her founding school team. Rachelle instantly grew fond of César's passion, dedication, and story, and as a result, he joined the KIPP Sol team in 2013 as the founding Physical Education teacher.
"My first year, I felt like I was able to build strong connections with my students partly because we had plenty of shared experiences. There were many things I related to and empathized with," he said. "And the truth is that our students are our purpose. They become our 'why.' So we were able to create something special in our founding year, which was a strong school community centered on our students."
César also forged strong relationships with his colleagues because of his captivating passion and quickly positioned himself as a pillar of support for the broader KIPP Sol school community. Because of their collaborative work as a founding school team, they solidified their bond early on as they worked towards cultivating an inclusive, nurturing, and empathic school culture from the ground up.
The founding team at KIPP Sol set a strong foundation prioritizing the success of its students, the involvement of their families, and the development of its staff. To help the mission and vision come to life, the founding members realized the importance of lifting each other and taking on new roles and responsibilities.
César committed to Sol's mission and found ways to extend his impact outside of his classroom. He initiated this journey by participating in KIPP SoCal's Teacher Leader Program and then completing the KIPP Foundation's prominent School Leadership Program to continue growing his leadership skills. Apart from being a community builder, César has led within the roles of educator, grade-level content lead, and instructional coach and now serves as Dean.
His proudest professional achievement was winning the KIPP Harriett Ball Excellence in Teaching Award in 2018. Every year, the KIPP Foundation nationally recognizes ten K-12 educators throughout the KIPP network who ignite passion in their classrooms and show a deep commitment to their students and community.
“Whether it was fate, destiny, or the universe guiding me to where I am now, I feel blessed to have connected with several good people along the way. You don’t see many people of color in leadership positions, especially men of color, which is why this journey has meant so much to me and my family,” he said.
As a Dean, César enjoys pouring his love into his school community and giving back, similarly to how those before him have done for him. He has also enjoyed the privilege of “having a seat at the table” to name and address moments of inequity, which in turn has allowed him to have a broader and more meaningful impact.
César plans to continue growing at KIPP SoCal and strongly believes in its commitment to being an anti-racist organization. Down the road, he would love to be a school leader that creates an empowering joyful education experience for students and teachers alike. But, for now, he is enjoying the process and the journey.
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