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HEROES Profile- Jenna Stauffer & Steve Sexton

HEROES Profile      September, 2015     

Hellaawesome Educators

Revitalizing Oakland Education for Students

“I love our community… I love witnessing children growing up and discovering their passions.”

Jenna Stauffer

Co-Founder and Director of Strategic Development, Lighthouse Community Charter School

“I knew from a young age that there was an inequity in this world and it came in the form of color and class.”

Steve Sexton

Co-Founder, Lighthouse Community Charter School

Did you grow up in Oakland? If not, what brought you to Oakland?

Steve: I grew up as an Air Force brat, so I never lived in one place too long.  What brought me to Oakland was the opportunity to make positive change.
Jenna: I grew up in northwest Indiana among cornfields and woodland tracts.  I came to Oakland in 2000 because it was ripe for change.  The educational landscape was going to explode in order to better serve kids.  We needed to be a part of that and had a vision for it.

 What is your connection to Oakland Education?

How would you describe your role in the community?

Jenna:  With Steve and others, we founded Lighthouse Community Charter Public Schools. Lighthouse opened doors to 92 kids in 2002. Today, we serve 750 kids in a K–12 school that also dabbles in services to 0-5 year olds, as well as alumni support. Now, we are embarking on starting a second K–12 school, Lodestar, which will open in Fall of 2016. Fifteen years in service to our Oakland community, I am deeply rooted here. I am mother to 3 kids. Ruby, our 10 year old, attends Lighthouse and my twin boys will attend a Lighthouse school next year (and now my difficult choice is…which one?!)
Steve: The last 15 years has been committed to the Oakland Community. Four of us decided to start a charter school and three of us are still here and the fourth is still in education in Oakland.

What are your favorite aspects of your job? 

Steve: My favorite aspect of my job is watching people grow because I have unique job of seeing  my students throughout their K-12 experience. That boils down to relationships- relationships throughout my community.
Jenna:  I absolutely love my job and I can’t just pick one thing. I love our community. It’s really something special to have 1000 people under roof all united around the same thing. I love witnessing children growing up and discovering their passions. I love our families and their dedication to their kids. I really love turning someone outside of education onto Lighthouse. Some people don’t believe what we do is possible. And then I tour them around the school and they see with their own eyes how our city can be for all kids.

Share one or two highlights from your career, in which you believe you made an impact.

Steve: Everyone has a story about the high achiever, so I won’t bother you with that. A story I will tell is about a student who was Learning disabled. His teachers tried to serve them the best they could but you can tell that he was really frustrated. But when he  got to 10th grade he found his passion, his passion was art. Art  inspired to him and was the one thing that he really loved. Now he has his diploma and a job.
Jenna: This one is sad, but speaks to the power of relationships.  My first year of teaching in Watts, I was able to connect and gain the trust of a tough 7th grade girl, S, who had been neglected by her teachers in years past.  She barely trusted anyone and was angry at everyone.  Slowly over time, she realized her leadership potential in my science class and we grew very close. One day I received a call from her sister that their mother had been killed in a drug deal and big sister wanted me to be the one to tell S what had happened.  With a broken heart, I did what I was asked and supported my dear S through months of grieving and challenge.

 What from your background do you believe led you to do what you do now?

Steve: Being an air force brat because I got to see a lot of education systems, some really good and some horrendous. I knew from a young age that there was an inequity in this world and it came in the form of color and class. If I had a better school it was usually white and when I had a high poverty school I usually had bad instruction and teachers who had already given up on their students.
Jenna:  As a child, I spent a great deal of time alone in nature. I developed a passion to protect those wild places.  I got my degree in wildlife ecology, but realized it wasn’t the wildlife that needed studying.  It was the people impacting the ecosystem that needed to study.  Through my college education, I learned about and witnessed environmental racism.  Put that in the mixing bowl and I knew my path was going to be education.

What motivates you?

Steve:  I have a most fulfilling and a purpose driven life- what more could I want?
Jenna:   Love.  To bring more love into the world in any way that I can.  I believe loving one another and loving those who feel most unloved is doing the work of God.

What do you love most about Oakland?

Steve: You can get anything here but it still feels like a small town.
Jenna:  I’m with Steve.


What do you like to do in your free time?

Steve: I’ll enumerate them.

  1. Spending time with my family.
  2. Spending time with my wife.
  3. Watching college football especially my Utah Utes.
  4. Getting into nature.
  5. And finally, laughing.

Jenna:  Free time?

I’ve had the privilege of working in many great schools, but none with a better culture than Lighthouse. Their generosity and kindness is like reflected light on the faces of their students.
When my daughter visited the school, on the way out she told me, “Those kids really want me to come to school here… I think they all really like each other.”
I don’t think this is an accident!
Ken Berrick

President and CEO, Seneca Family of Agencies

What is your best advice to young people?

Steve:  Find your passion and vigorously pursue it; while at the same time becoming an expert at something.
Jenna:  No one can stop you from achieving your deepest dreams.  Do or do not.  There is no try.  (Thank you, Yoda.)

If you were to reimagine public education in Oakland, what would that vision look like?

Steve: Well, I can’t reimagine education in Oakland because these times of change are happening really rapidly. So, I  am giving up trying to predict the future. What I would like to reimagine is the quality school for every kid.
Jenna:  Every child, starting from when they are born, are provided a loving place to go to school.  Schools would cater to the truly diverse learning needs of all of our students.  Teachers would be our city’s most lauded heroes.  The achievement gap would disappear and education would be transforming lives every day.


60 Seconds with Jenna Stauffer & Steve Sexton


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