It wasn’t until Aixle Aman returned to Los Angeles to teach at a private school that the opportunity and achievement gaps she believes plague the education system in many states became clear.
Aixle (pronounced ACE-EL) took a job after a challenging two years as a Teach for America (TFA) corps member in Brooklyn, N.Y., where navigating school and district politics felt as if it trumped teaching. And, where there were at once entire classes of disruptive, low-performing students and entire classes of high achievers, all for whom Aixle learned to “teach to the test.” At the private school however, she felt more freedom to hone her teaching skills, to be creative, to focus on project-based learning.
Her experiences in L.A. and Brooklyn permanently transformed Aixle’s outlook on education, putting in sharp relief what she sees as systemic disparities and a disconnect between decision-makers and teachers. “The whole systemic problem, the inequities, is what made me go to policy school,” she said.
With a master’s in public policy under her belt and a doctorate in educational leadership for social justice underway, Aixle is focused on becoming a transformative leader in the movement for educational equity. And she is likely to make her impact in L.A., where she’s currently the chief of staff for L.A. Unified School District School Board Member Ref Rodriguez, who was elected in May 2015. Los Angeles is the city in which she plans to stay “for the rest of my life.”
It’s where she grew up, the daughter of Filipino immigrants who expected good grades of their two children. Aixle attended Catholic school from third grade through high school, which she said instilled in her a deep commitment to serving others. It also provided her a spiritual retreat, particularly during her freshman year of high school, when her older brother died in an accidental fall. His devastating loss forced Aixle to mature quickly and deepened her sense of responsibility to be successful. “I was already kind of a good student, but now I knew (my parents) were going to place all their hopes on me,” she said. “All their memories now would come from me.”
Discovering her niche
Aixle thrived in high school, and in the months before her first year at the University of California San Diego, she attended a summer program on the campus that included a course that tackled a number of social matters, such as institutional racism, hegemony and privilege. The opportunity provided Aixle for the first time a context in which to understand some of her own feelings and experiences as a person of color, living in a predominantly white culture. It also fostered an interest in issues of social justice.
That interest grew during a summer internship with a juvenile probation office in Washington, D.C., where through house visits in different neighborhoods she had her first real glimpse of the realities of economic inequity. She remembers one particular visit where she saw several family members living in a one-bedroom apartment filled with flies and roaches that scurried at her feet. Such conditions were shocking to her, especially in the shadow of the White House and U.S. Capitol.
As Aixle neared the end of college, it became clear that her future career path would involve addressing social and economic inequities in some fashion and, perhaps, education – an area of interest that developed after taking a few courses in the topic. She later went on to earn a master’s in teaching while serving in TFA.
After graduate school, Aixle participated in the Policy and Advocacy Summer Fellowship while she searched for full-time work back in Los Angeles. Her placement with Democrats for Education Reform introduced her to the world of organizing and advocacy in Los Angeles. Aixle’s summer fellowship coach connected her to someone at LAUSD, which eventually resulted a job opportunity with former board member, Tamar Galatzan. During the fellowship she developed key relationships with other advocacy organizations that served as a foundation for continued relationship building in her new role.
Outside of work, she’s involved in a diversity of groups, including The Collective, an association that supports TFA alumni of color and New Leaders Council, an entrepreneurial leadership program for young professionals. She’s also taken part in Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE)’s organizing and advocacy programs, which helped her learn how to navigate the politics within organizations in order to reshape their system from the inside.
Getting involved in these various efforts not only pushed Aixle out of her policy-centric comfort zone and widened her professional network; it also allowed her to reflect on how she wants to make her mark on L.A.’s educational system. And she’s aiming to become a transformative trailblazer in the movement to end educational inequity.
“The underlying purpose of a transformative leader is the focus on social justice, civic engagement and democracy,” said Aixle, whose doctorate program at Loyola Marymount University is providing her a framework for understanding various types of leadership. “It’s the sense that if we fix the social problems that affect the entire society, many problems within an organization will fix themselves.” In other words, transform an entire system.
She’s already thinking about her dissertation, too, which she plans to focus on community schools – a strategy that leverages partnerships to provide a range of services for the whole child, while utilizing the assets of an entire community.
“It’s no silver bullet, but this one makes sense to me,” for all children, Aixle said. “I truly believe if kids can have all of their needs met—academic, mental, physical, and emotional — while they’re in school, then they can have a real chance at moving forward in life.
“That, to me, is equity.”