Celebration Series – Oscar Romano

Our Celebration Series is an opportunity to celebrate who we are as an organization.  As we celebrate 15 years of operation and begin to establish a foundation in Memphis, we want to highlight someone who is building transformative relationships and shaping the path to create life-changing opportunities for his students.
  
Google “humble leader” and Oscar Romano is guaranteed to appear in the search results. The preview text will read: “Oscar Romano is in his second year as High School Dean of Students at YES Prep Brays Oaks. He is the first in his family to attend and graduate from college after persevering through a difficult college beginning. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University where he founded the Latino Men’s Collective, a club dedicated to promoting Latino culture and bringing together Latino males across the campus. Romano is a Teach For America alum (Houston 2009) who is a committed leader to students in one of Houston’s underserved communities. He taught 8th grade science at Fondren Middle School for two years before transitioning to Brays Oaks where he continued to teach 8th grade science while also serving as grade-level chair prior to his current role.
 
Okay, while the Google guarantee might be faulty, there is no doubt that Oscar Romano embodies the humble leadership that our organization strives to cultivate. Under Romano’s leadership, Brays Oaks is currently growing out its high school, which presently includes 9th and 10th grade.
 
Romano works strategically with his team to ensure that as high school discipline and cultural systems are rolled out, there is alignment to a gradual release of responsibility. This gradual release of responsibility is aimed at making sure students are not only ready for college, but also prepared to persevere through college.
 
“We don’t want to hold [a student’s] hand in the same way in 12th grade as we’re doing in 9th grade,” Romano said. “That foresight and thought that is being put into [the high school build out] is something I’m proud of and something that I’m working to finalize – to see what it looks like when it all comes together.”
 
Romano’s own background deeply influences both his leadership and his interactions with his students, whose journeys resonate with him and provide a point of connection.
 
His parents emigrated from El Salvador. His father started out as an overnight workman at a restaurant and worked his way up to become a chef 10 years later. Romano’s mother relentlessly sought out the resources Oscar and his brother needed in order to succeed in school. She fought to ensure that her sons had the best upbringing possible.
 
“My parents are by far the greatest role models I could ever have in terms of what it is to work hard and to achieve something out of nothing,” Romano said.
 
As a result of his parents’ persistence, Romano grew up with the mindset that hard work and education paved the way to further succeed in life.
 
“That is a lesson that will always stay with me. That you can do anything you want and you can be anybody you want as long as you put forth the effort and have the work ethic,” Romano explained.  
 
Romano capitalized on that lesson to push through college and he continues to instill such lessons in his students.
 
Romano’s first two years in college were challenging, and he didn’t feel prepared to succeed. “It was a tough transition,” he said. “I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t have study skills. I didn’t have the patience and diligence to sit down and read a book and take notes. I didn’t have to do that in high school.”
 
It wasn’t until his junior year that things really started to click and Romano really started to get a feel for what it is that he needed to do to succeed. This experience is something that has driven him in his work as an educator and as a dean of students.
 
“[I want to make sure] that by the time [students] leave here they have reached the level of education that will help them be prosperous in any environment that they get into,” Romano explained. “That they can succeed in college and that they’ll be prepared to take on anything.”
 
With a strong vision in front of him, Romano leads his students by example.
 
“You really don’t know who you’re going to influence or how you’re going to influence them,” Romano explained. “I try to model the high expectations that I expect of students so that they can then internalize them.”
 
“I don’t know what conversation I’m having with them is going to have an effect. I don’t know what interaction I’m having with them is going to have an effect,” Romano added. “So the best thing to do is just make sure that I’m modeling on a consistent basis.”
 
While Romano says that students would say he is strict and constantly pushing them, he also has their backs.
 
“I’m not letting them settle for anything. I’m always looking out for them – that they have what they need and they have the support that they need,” he said.
 
Brays Oaks School Director Chris Claflin states that Romano brings an unfettered dedication to the Class of 2016, which will be the first graduating class for Brays Oaks.
 
 “He wants to be a part of the build out of the high school to specifically help support the class of 2016 become college ready in both academic performance and character,” Claflin said. “[Romano] also strives to maximize presence and consistency in how all students are supported and held accountable.”
 
As Romano and his team strive to create life-changing opportunities for their students, he is constantly encouraged by the thought of the Class of 2016 walking across the stage to get their diplomas. His humble leadership is driven by the vision of seeing his students succeed.

Read previous editions of our Celebration Series here, here, here, and here!
 

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