We had the good fortune of connecting with Nia Ali and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nia, what’s something about your industry that outsiders are probably unaware of?
I am in the educational industry. I am sure many people do not know that we are in an educational crisis that is greatly affecting our community. When we fail our students, we ultimately fail ourselves, and impart, fail our communities. There is a massive academic achievement gap. Marginalized students are not given the same opportunity for success as more affluent students. When you take a look at standardized testing in the greater Phoenix area, on average, not even 25% of melanated students are able to score a proficiency rate or higher. When you look more closely, most of these students have not mastered reading, thus impacting ever academic area. We must work collectively to close the gap and provide every student an equitable educational experience. In regards to discipline, I am sure the public is unaware of the major disparities in regards to discipline in regards to students of color. African-American students are disciplined at an alarming rate. In2014, The United States Department of Justice along with the Department of Education wrote a letter to district superintendents to address the issue. The letter informed districts of the surge of numbers and offered support. However, working on the front line, little work has proven to be effective because African-American students continue to be disproportionately disciplined and separated from academic instruction at alarming rates. The general public continues to walk blindly in regards to the public school system providing an equitable education to all students.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve been an educator for nearly 20 years. I have always chosen assignments in Title I schools, the least of things. Ironically, I teach students to go to school to get training and experience. Then take that experience in create a business. Over the years I have always shared with my students that each one of them has a gift that they must serve the world. I teach them that it is their responsibility to identify the gift, cultivate the gift – that is where education comes in, then given the gift to the world. I explained that their gift will make room for them in this world. And that each one has a unique destiny they only they can fulfill. Teaching concepts and principles over the years, encouraging young people to live their wildest dreams, and empowering them to create their own; I realized that all I was – was a microphone. I had all the “right” things to say, but when I looked at my own life, I was doing the very thing that I spoke against. I was working for someone else, on their schedule, and their ideas, in their structure, and had yet to step out and live my own dream. I had gotten use to the routine and even the comfortable lifestyle that I had created, yet something was amiss. In 2018, I decided to drink my own medicine. I decided to step out, as an act of faith, and create my own educational system. I created my private school, Vision Leadership Academy. And this is achievement is what I am most proud. In 2006, it was a mere idea that I wrote on paper. It laid dormant in a notebook for over a decade. What I didn’t realize was it took me time to cultivate my own gift. I needed training. I needed to gain the experience. I needed to gain the confidence to pull it off. In 2016, I obtained my master’s degree in Educational Leadership graduating with honors. Although devastated when my district did not hire me as an assistant principal, it was the best closed door ever. It showed me that my ideas were too different. My methods of educating youth would not be received and that the only way that I would be able to impact generations, would be to create my own system. And thus, I did. My level of integrity, passion, and commitment to being an agent of change sets me apart from my former colleagues. I have a no-none sense approach to my practice. I really believe that all students are capable of great things. It is my conviction to ensure that they believe it too. I lead with love and discipline. I have researched other educational systems in other countries that yield success. I then created a matrix of a system in which we operate our school. The results were astounding. I’ve learned that in many traditional settings we are doing it all wrong, the data supports this, yet year after year we continue. I am aware of implemented strategies for improvement, however, if they are not implemented with fidelity and integrity, we continue to do a disservice to our communities. I can’t sign off on that and that also is what makes my approach in my industry different. Establishing Vision Leadership Academy has not been easy. It is a very big vision that has several phases that has yet to completely manifest. There were many trials and pitfalls and I hit each one. What I have learned is the trials and pitfalls are merely a part of the process. Adversity is really your friend. Don’t run from adversity and don’t panic. It is present to help you to grow. In the beginning, I struggled with it all. One of the main reasons is because I was crazy enough to quit my job, yet I could not convince anyone else to do the same. Therefore, I had to do everything. I was the principle, teacher, counselor, scheduler, parent liaison, attendance clerk, dean, recruiter, and administrator. All of these things I did out of my own personal budget and there wasn’t enough to even pay me a salary. I was exhausted, my savings was depleted, but I was relentless. So I hit reset for the second school year and did it all again. I opened my doors to transform the life of students, giving them an opportunity for an exemplary educational experience. Fourth quarter of my second year, we were struck with a pandemic, COVID-19. This pandemic changed the way we did things. One of my strongest strategies is interpersonal learning. My students feel my presence and my care for them. It was hard to demonstrate that via online. Due to a lack of funding, I wouldn’t foresee how to safely receive students for a third year. Although I knew teaching had to continue. I then created to facets of continuing to educate students. The first, I offer online classes, AcademyU via Zoom. These courses are electives and supplemental courses to traditional education. Parents and students may subscribe monthly and enroll in African Culture and History, English and Composition, and Pre-Algebra. Also, I created a book series, Sasha and Tasha as an extension of my classroom. This series of books help students to improve reading fluency and reading comprehension. The first in the series, Sasha and Tasha: Peach Cobbler Pie in July, helps students to master the long /i/ sound as well as teaches a lesson on honesty. I guess I could say I am most proud of these books for many reasons. As a high school educator, I would get many students that struggled with reading. Unfortunately, at third grade, many districts no longer teach phonics, word blends, or word families. So students are passed to the next grade without any supplemental work in mastering this skill. Sasha and Tasha helps that. The series provides students with Word Skill Builder Lists of the featured sound. Thus, students get the practice of sound and repetition of words before they read the text. The text is then laid out in mini chapter formats, so even older students feel comfortable reading it. In addition to providing students the repetition and practice needed to master word families, the stories promote positive African-American images, families, and characters. Something that is definitely needed in our current climate and culture. Positive “Black” images to build esteem and identity in “Black” students. And finally, each story teaches a valuable traditional core principle. Sasha tells a lie and learns the importance of telling the truth in the first installment of Sasha and Tasha Peach Cobbler Pie in July. I would love the opportunity to put these books in the hands of readers in the greater South Phoenix community. I think that it is imperative that readers see themselves in the stories that they read. They must see themselves in a positive light and they too will feel that they can reflect the light. Any help that you provide to give readers the practice that they need and to see themselves is greatly appreciated. I am a native of South Phoenix and I am committed to my community. It is my hope that I am able to provide information, resources, and be the example that dreams can come true to a community that is sometimes forgotten.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I enjoy the outdoors. So, if my best friend were visiting a few of the things would do are: We would definitely go hiking. Locally, I enjoy hiking Mormon Trail at South Mountain. It is quick and challenging. For lunch, one of my favorite spots is Flower Child. The food is fresh and nutritious. Dinner, one of my go to spots is Breadfruit Rum. Everything is great about this place. It is a quaint little spot downtown. The service is always top 5 star and the food is equally matched. I order all over the menu and everything that I have had has been delectable, cocktails, appetizers, entrée, and dessert. Just for fun, I may guide my friends through a yoga session. I am also a certified yoga teacher. They always love when I give them a free class. I’ve guided sessions on top of mountains during a hike which is very relaxing. I am pretty basic, I hike and enjoy working out. I like to eat good food and laugh and have great conversations with my friends.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The book, The Principles and Power of Vision: Keys to Achieving Personal and Corporate Destiny by Dr. Myles Munroe completely changed my life. It is one of the books the I recommend to everyone. It is definitely a must read. This book helps to discover one’s purpose in life. It gives clear direction of principles and how to they are necessary to fulfilling your dreams. Dr. Myles Munroe, a spiritual mentor, helped me to understand the power of vision. So much so, that I named my private school after his teachings, Vision Leadership Academy. I adopted his teachings and patterned my private school based upon the concepts and principles that he reveals in this book. If there is ever a time when I feel uncertain, I ensure to reread The Principles and Power of Vision: Keys to Achieving Personal and Corporate Destiny. The key to my achievement is my strong family. I could not do anything without my family’s help and support. My mother gave me a solid foundation of love and frequently reminded me of who I am and to whom I belong. She planted many seeds and my accomplishments are simply the harvest. My mother died in 2009 and much of my drive is to ensure that I leave a legacy to make her proud.