New director named for Southwest campus

Ms. Ni’Cole M. Mukes, former director with Arrow Academy in Houston, has been in the education field since 1994 and has recently been named director of Varnett’s Southwest campus. She has experience as a classroom teacher, professional development coordinator, curriculum writer, accreditation chair and administrator.

Prior to joining Arrow Academy, Ms. Mukes served as vice principal in the Salinas (Calif.) Union High School District from 2004 to 2012. She also was a teacher in the Jurupa Unified District in Riverside, Calif., and was regional coordinator for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) at the Riverside County Office of Education.

Since joining Arrow Academy as director in November 2012, Ms. Mukes implemented Professional Learning Communities and increased student achievement on STAAR tests with the highest averages across three years. For more than 20 years, she has worked independently and within teams. She utilized her teaching and leadership skills to ensure that teachers were successful in instruction and that students were successful in reaching their academic goals.

The following are her thoughts about joining the Varnett family:

Why did you come to Varnett? 

The mission of Varnett Public Schools is closely aligned to my own philosophy on education. I believe in providing a rigorous education of the highest quality possible to all students. I believe in doing so in an atmosphere that is welcoming, safe and respectful to all stakeholders. My career has been in diverse under-served or under-challenged areas. I have worked continuously to ensure that all students are empowered to achieve at high academic levels, and to carry their learning throughout the span of both their educational careers and their lifetimes. 

What can parents, teachers and students expect from you in terms of your goals, mission and management style?

All stakeholders can expect a high level of expectation in terms of professionalism, academic achievement and consistent individual growth. I am a hands-on administrator who believes in playing an active part of the school community, from managing my building to classroom instruction, and to student enrichment through extracurricular activities such as field trips and school programs. I use my high energy levels to consistently be present, be that in the classroom or elsewhere. I work to be aware of what is going on in my building, but to also see that all we do lends itself towards increased achievement and opportunities for our students. In this next year I will work with my team to move our school toward meeting all four indexes for state testing (student achievement, progress, closing the achievement gap, and post secondary readiness), and to ensure that all K-2 students are on level or beyond in reading and math at the end of their school year. Education opens doors of opportunity and I see it as part of my job to make sure all students have as many opportunities afforded them as possible.

What have you learned from your previous jobs that will help Varnett students?

After 20+ years, what I know for sure is that each child brings to us what he or she has, nothing more, and believe it or not, that is enough! Using respect, communication, empowerment and rigorous instruction, we can build on what students have to get them to where they need to be. All of this must be done with an attitude of "we can do it" or "si se puede.” All of us - from staff to students to parents - must not only believe it can be done, but actively and consistently work toward getting it done.

How did you become interested in education? What are you passionate about in the field of education?

 I was born a teacher. As a child, I would hold class in my playhouse in the backyard. Even when we weren't playing class, I would demand my friends’ attention to teach them precisely how to do whatever we were doing, the right way. Upon entering college I decided that teachers didn’t make enough money so I pursued another field. That lasted only until my junior year when I realized that passion and purpose are more important than money. I originally chose to go into secondary education because I felt like so much time and effort was being put into the lower grades, that the upper grades got left behind. Upon moving to Texas, I took a drastic shift and went into elementary education with some trepidation. Well honestly, there was a lot of trepidation, but after adapting to all the wet hugs, wet kisses, and wet everything, I have embraced the babies and never looked back. I have a master's degree in curriculum and instruction and that’s what I love the most. Curriculum and Instruction is the basis for all we do as educators. Unless we have a relevant curriculum, aligned to rigorous instruction, we are not doing our jobs and serving our students in the best way we can.

What brought you to Houston from California?

 All of my mother's family is here in Texas so I had visited almost yearly since I was a child. I lived here briefly as a teenager but returned to California after a short year and a half. I relocated from California to Houston in July of 2012 to help care for my grandmother, who transitioned to heaven a year later, and I stayed here to be close to my mother and other family.

What are your hobbies? How you do spend your leisure time?

I am an avid reader and once I get into a book, I hear nothing else except what the characters are "speaking" to me. I love to travel and am also a certified travel agent, which helps me accomplish my travels goals much easier and cheaper. Music is the language of my soul so I always have music playing in my office, at home, in the car, and anywhere else I can get it, live or otherwise. And my most favorite thing to do, beside breathing, is eating! If it weren't for gaining unwanted pounds, I'd eat as often as possible. I'm a meat and potatoes girl so I don't do a lot of snacking or junk food. I love authentic Mexican food and will nearly sell my soul for a great steak, but I also like trying new food, especially those of different cultures.


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