When I helped found Marion P. Thomas Charter School (MPTCS), I was essentially working two jobs. One was a dream job at ESSENCE Magazine. The other required me to give every spare moment to helping establish the school and make it a success. I knew I couldn’t sustain focus on both. I was waking up every day, thinking about MPTCS first, and it was clear that I needed to choose my passion and take a formalized role with the school. People around me may not have understood why I left ESSENCE, but I have never regretted that choice.

The skills and traits I acquired in the private sector have benefited MPTCS. Since I didn’t spend my entire career in education, I tend to think creatively and not just do things “the way they’ve always been done.” This has led to innovative programs like SELECT (single-gender instruction) and the MPTCS Foundation, which awards scholarships to MPTCS alumni.

At ESSENCE, I learned it was important to know your target audience and consider that audience when making decisions. At MPTCS, the audience I serve consists of students and families from Newark neighborhoods. I am fully committed to helping each one of them reach their full potential, and that commitment informs my work every day.

Additionally, working in long-lead publishing requires long-term thinking and planning, which I apply to planning for our school’s sustainability and growth. I know that strong leaders and visionaries do not simply think about the here and now, so I constantly ponder how the decisions I make today will impact the future—of our students and the local community.

On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
MPTCS is the largest independent charter school in Newark, a city with many independent and network charter schools competing for students and exposure. Parents look at what differentiates a school in determining whether it is right for their child. MPTCS stands out by being innovative and using research-based best practices. We offer unique programs, including free pre-school, optional single-gender classrooms, and performing and culinary arts instruction at our new high school.

On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
Rev. Dr. Charles E. Thomas, one of the founders of MPTCS, inspired me to leave Essence Magazine, take a deep pay cut, earn two more graduate degrees, and help establish and lead MPTCS. His commitment, vision, and passion for people compelled me to embark on my second career as an educator 16 years ago.

On Facing Challenges
The awesome responsibility of leading a school of more than 1,000 and preparing young people for college and career in the twenty-first century is no easy task. It certainly isn’t a nine-to-five job. It is important work, and there are no shortcuts.

Karen’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Learn all you can from each opportunity afforded you. Every experience is a chance to learn something that might help solve a problem later in your career or life.