Kelly Forbes: Passion for Education
Despite the recent budget cuts, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) does an amazing job of educating so many of our young people and, in my opinion, it is because of the people who work for TPS who make it that way. One such person is Kelly Forbes, principal of Zarrow International School, a TPS Spanish immersion elementary school. Known as “Sr. Kellito” by the students and staff, his positive leadership, direct communication — including giving out his cellphone number to parents – and open-door policy have made the school an outstanding place to be. My son, a fifth-grade student at ZIS, has witnessed, first-hand, how contagious his positive energy and enthusiasm are for all those around him.
TK: What is your background?
KF: I grew up in Tulsa and graduated from Metro Christian Academy. After graduating, I went to Oklahoma City University and majored in Spanish. I knew I loved the Spanish culture from going on numerous study abroad trips during high school and college. Right out of college, I got a job with Royal Caribbean Cruise lines singing and dancing. It was a great way for me to travel all over the world, meet different people and experience various cultures.
TK: How did you become interested in becoming an educator?
KF: I got a job in Oklahoma City as a permanent substitute teaching Spanish. I never intended to be in education, but I fell in love with it after being a substitute. From there, I worked on earning my teaching certification and applied for full-time teaching positions. I became the teacher for English Language Learners who were newcomers to the U.S.; the background of those students varied from seven different countries and eight different languages. During that time, I took advantage of grants available for people interested in earning a Master’s Degree in Bilingual Education/TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
TK: How did you become interested in learning Spanish as a second language?
KF: When I was at Metro Christian Academy, I really loved my Spanish teacher, Sra. Adkins. She really opened my eyes to the Spanish language and culture. I love everything Latino – the food, culture and the people. Nobody else in my family speaks Spanish.
TK: What appealed to you about taking your current position?
KF: When I worked as the Title III Director of Crooked Oak Public Schools, I worked with the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) in San Antonio who provided a grant through the government in helping make education equitable for the English Language Learners. During that time, I realized that I wanted to be a principal of a bilingual school. I wanted to work closely with students in second language acquisition and I couldn’t do that as a director as much as I had desired. I needed to do that as a principal. This is a dream job for me.
TK: What are three words that describe you?
KF: Passionate, excited and relationship-oriented.
TK: What is your favorite part of your job?
KF: Being with the kids. Also, sometimes doing what kids don’t expect. One day, the kids saw me riding a tricycle in the hallway. Working with this group of teachers is also fun. Being able to have fun with them, like going to Zumba classes together, as well as knowing them on a professional level has been great. I sometimes get chills hearing our teachers interact and collaborate on ways to help our students.
TK: What do you find most challenging?
KF: Truly trying to be all things to all people all the time and realizing I can’t because it’s impossible.
TK: What do you find most rewarding?
KF: Seeing those “ah-ha” moments for the teachers and kids — those “I get it” moments. Student learning – that is the only reason why we’re all here. Oh, and also hugs and high-fives are the best.
TK: Why do you feel it is important to share your cell number with the parents at Zarrow?
KF: I’ve always done that. Going back to Newcomer English Language Learners, I wanted to make it easy for them and their parents to access me if they had any questions that came up in general or about school. Also, transparency is very important to me, and so is direct communication. I want parents to have access to me. Nobody has ever abused it, and I think it makes it easier for parents to contact me directly.
TK: How do you think the recent budget cuts will affect ZIS?
KF: I’m going to remain very optimistic about the ways that Zarrow will continue to provide for our kids. Also, I continue to advocate for our community and stakeholders to vote for our schools, to vote for our teachers and, most importantly, to vote for our children. They are our future.
TK: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
KF: I love Zumba and Salsa dancing. I also love my Chihuahuas, Mijo and Corazón. Being with my friends and/or family on a patio grilling is always wonderful. I also love to go on cruises with my grandparents, and do any sort of traveling.
Wrap-up with Sr. Kellito:
KF: Working on a cruise ship and traveling the world was a journey, but being in education is also a journey. Working with students and teachers from all over the world is enriching. I continue to enjoy the diversity in culture and language of our students and teachers at Zarrow. I believe that it is through our diversity that we achieve greatness. And I must thank all of the families and students for their support, and give my biggest gratitude to the wonderful educators who give their hearts, time and money every day to make ZIS the wonderful school that it is. If you ever just need a moment to stop and feel good about life, walk into one classroom and see what we have going on here. It’ll make you smile from the inside out!