On March 7, 2023, YES Prep Public Schools will be celebrating its 25th birthday. On this day, 25 years ago, YES Prep received its official charter from the State of Texas.
The YES Prep landscape looks drastically different since those 25 years. We invited our most tenured staff, who have been with YES for over 20 years, to share what YES Prep looked like way back when and their thoughts on where we are today.
One school, 400 students, 50 teammates
When Mark DiBella, YES Prep’s Chief Executive Officer, joined YES Prep back in 2001, YES Prep was one school with approximately 400 students and 50 teammates. “YES Prep was one campus that had just moved from the corner of Navigation and Jensen in the shadow of downtown to what is now the empty field between Southeast Elementary and Southeast Secondary.” During this time, YES Prep was housed in temporary buildings, and DiBella’s classroom was across from Keith Desrosiers, another lifelong YES Prep team member who currently serves as YES Prep’s Mathematics Content Director.
DiBella reflected, “the circa 70s wood paneling and the threadbare carpet were reminders that even though the best days of the building were behind them, the best days with my students were ahead of me. From all my memories of what YES Prep physically looked like back then, what I remember most is that it looked and felt like a community where we all believed in the limitless potential of the kids we were privileged to serve.”
Compelled by the mission to serve
Keith Desrosiers was working at a local high school in Houston as a math teacher when he first heard about YES Prep. His mentor was slotted to be YES Prep’s first math teacher but took a position at Rice University, and that’s when she introduced him to YES Prep’s founder Chris Barbic. “I was compelled by the mission, Chris' passion for serving our students and the opportunity to be on the starting team.” Since then, Desrosiers has served in a wide range of roles including principal at Southeast Secondary, instructional coach, dean of students, dean of instruction and now director of mathematics.”
Similarly, DiBella was a fifth-grade teacher at a local elementary school, where he had been placed as a Teach For America corps member, when he learned about YES Prep. “I encouraged my students to apply to YES Prep and would accompany them on the weekends to visit YES Prep. It just so happened that my wife who was a fellow teacher was hired by YES Prep. Barbic, YES Prep’s founder, had a new hire event at his house and I joined my wife and walked away with an offer to interview. Who knew attending that event would set a course for the next quarter century of my life?”
Serving as YES Prep’s Director of Athletic Programming, Pierre Urban was introduced to YES Prep fairly soon after returning to Houston having attended Stephen F. Austin. “I was working at a community center in the Second Ward as an after-school activities coordinator when my manager asked me if I would be interested in coaching a basketball team at a school her son attended. She told me that they were hiring at a school called YES Prep, so I decided to apply and got the job. The rest is history.”
Evolution of YES Prep athletics
Looking back at the athletics at YES Prep, Pierre recollected, “When I first started, we were in temporary buildings in a parking lot of the current Talento Bilingue Houston. We didn’t have a gym and all practices were held in the parking lot, where we had to watch out for vehicles and the weather. We used portable basketball goals/volleyball goals that we rolled around based on the availability of the parking lot.” Today, all of YES Prep’s secondary schools have access to gyms at their campuses and the athletics offering is not only robust but are also able to host games in a safe and competitive environment.
Since his early beginnings at YES Prep, Pierre went from a part time basketball coach to developing the athletics programs at Southeast Secondary and East End Secondary. Today, he not only serves as the director of athletic programming for YES Prep’s entire school system but also serves as the director of the Honor Charter Athletics League, giving charter students access to competitive sports across multiple charter school systems in Texas.
Reflecting on the last 25 years
To quote Urban, “Obviously, YES Prep has become a much bigger place than when we first started.” Desrosiers echoed, “We had a staff of less than 20, with just over 300 students in grades sixth through tenth. We worked so hard to build the program." DiBella added, “Now, two decades later, we’ve got 23 schools, over 18,000 students and over 2,000 teammates. While the numbers have changed the core of our mission has not. Much has changed but what matters most—our mission, our belief in ALL kids, and our commitment to each other—those are all every bit as strong now as they were then.”
As for accomplishments, Desrosiers said, “I am proud of what we have accomplished: growing from one school to more than twenty; the addition of the elementary program; our focus on supporting all students; the list goes on and on. I am especially proud of how we navigated the COVID years and how we continue to adjust our programming to best meet the needs of our students.”
Urban added, “This has been an awesome journey. I feel that I am a YES Prep student. I graduated from Northbrook High School and we now have a YES Prep at my alma mater, so every day I come to work and see our students, I see myself. This motivates me to do my best and to provide the best for our students every day.”
As for DiBella, “The vast majority of my professional life has been at YES Prep. It’s hard to talk about YES Prep as an ‘experience’ because who I am and what I do are so deeply connected to who I am. I know YES Prep isn’t perfect, and I am certainly very far from it; yet despite our flaws, I am deeply proud to have been a member of the YES Prep family all these years. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I love YES Prep in my soul.”
Looking towards the future
“The ride has been an amazing one! I have learned so much from my peers, the YES Prep leadership and my students. I have loved the journey and look forward to the days ahead. I will be here for years and years to come, I’m not at the halfway point yet.” Desrosiers expressed. Urban shared, “I am really excited for the next 20 years of YES Prep and how much more we can accomplish as a system.” He also added, “You know you've been here a long time when the students you used to teach or coach are now your peers. It is awesome to have them join us in our mission and it is a true testament to the power of YES Prep.”
Looking forward to what’s to come, YES Prep will continue to expand its elementary program to offer quality education earlier on throughout the greater Houston area and we will continue to strive for excellence in order to become the “A” district our students and families deserve.