The Winding Road to Brilla Pax and Brilla Caritas

This article is written by Shingi Mutasa and Zoranlly Burgos, principals of Brilla Pax and Brilla Caritas, respectively. They describe the motivation for founding two new elementary schools.  

Founding Brilla Pax and Brilla Caritas was a process marked by joys, difficulties, and many, many surprises. Looking back, the road to founding was undoubtedly bumpy and complex: we never imagined we’d launch the schools during a pandemic. In other ways, though, our journey here was simple: we’re committed to offering a Brilla education to more families in the Bronx. And it’s happening so long as there are families who want it. Period.

Over the summer, the Principals and Operations Leaders of Brilla Caritas and Pax put the finishing touches on the building.

The process began over two years ago. Based on the long waiting lists at Brilla College Prep and Brilla Veritas and the impressive results of the schools, it seemed that the Brilla model tapped into a real need. After seeking input from Bronx families and community members, the Brilla Board confirmed what they suspected: there are many families who want a high-quality, classically-inspired, character-based education for their children but are unable to get one because there aren’t enough seats. The Brilla Schools Network Team intensely prepared an application for two more charters. And in October 2018, the application was approved: Brilla received two of the last remaining charters available in NYC!

LeRoy is the mascot of Brilla Pax
Nicky is the mascot of Brilla Caritas

Then the work to prepare for launch in 2020 began: Where would the schools be? How would the schools work with the local neighborhood? Who would the School Leaders be? The staff? The scholars? In early 2019, plans were developed. The Brilla Schools Network Team secured a facility. We were selected as the School Leaders and began preparing for our new roles. Leveraging our past leadership experiences at other Brilla schools, we brainstormed about how we would implement the Brilla model and what successful founding would look like. While the Brilla Schools Enrollment Team was busy telling Bronx families all about our new schools, we began hiring our staff this past winter. As 2019 turned into 2020, plans were really advancing. We designed our mascots (Nicky and LeRoy) and hosted open houses for prospective families at our new building. And then March rolled around and the world as we knew it changed dramatically.

A Brilla Pax scholar shows the symbol for courage during her virtual home visit.

Due to COVID, we had to change how we did things. Hiring staff, hosting open houses, conducting home visits for newly enrolled scholars, checking in on progress of the building, and cultivating relationships with the local community had to happen virtually. It was certainly challenging, but we are proud of our teams’ work: our new building is beautiful; both schools are fully enrolled; and the Pax and Caritas founding staff are incredibly mission-driven and talented educators. 

As our staff participated in onboarding in August, our operations teams were busy distributing technology and other materials for our students to begin remote learning. What a joy it was to meet our families in person during tech distribution days! We are enormously grateful for their partnership especially now. Thanks to their work, both schools have had attendance rates well over 90% since our first day of virtual school on August 31st.  

Families say goodbye to their kindergarteners

On September 28th, we opened our doors for in-person instruction for the first time and how joyful it was! Leading up to our in-person start, we worked intensely to secure Personal Protective Equipment, install furniture to allow for social distancing, and ensure our program is responsive to the needs of scholars and families given everything they’ve been through in the past six months.  We are thrilled that we have the capacity to offer 100% in-person instruction to all of our Kindergartens and are committed to offering them a high-quality holistic education. 180 families have entrusted Brilla Pax and Brilla Caritas with their children—a responsibility we don’t take lightly. Seeing our families outside our building was a reminder that, although the road here has been winding and difficult, it has brought us exactly where we set out to go: partnering with families to prepare scholars for excellence in high school, college, and beyond.

About the authors

Zoranlly Burgos is the Founding Principal of Brilla Caritas. She joined Brilla College Prep as a founding kindergarten teacher in 2013, and, from 2017 to 2019, was the Founding Principal of Brilla Veritas. Ms. Burgos holds a B.A. in Spanish from the Honors Program at The City College of New York, a Master of Arts in Teaching from Relay Graduate School of Education, and an extension in Special Education from Fordham University. She joined Teach for America in 2011 and has lived the mission of closing the achievement gap ever since. Ms. Burgos is excited to continue to give back to the community where she grew up—the Bronx. She enjoys crafting and spending time with her two sons, Jordan and Jonah.

Shingi Mutasa is the Founding Principal of Brilla Pax Elementary School. He joined Brilla College Prep Elementary in 2018 as a Grade and Content Lead and served as Assistant Principal in 2019. He is proud and privileged to have attended and graduated from schools and colleges all over the world. Most recently, he received his Masters in Educational Leadership from Fordham University and his SBL certification to lead schools in New York City. Mr. Mutasa is a Teach for America alumnus and has been working in K-12 urban schools since 2011. He loves reading, the Dallas Cowboys and traveling to Africa.

Categories: Feature Story

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