Karine Blemur-Chapman started at BFS as a third grade assistant teacher. Three years later she moved next door to Admissions, and today, a decade later, she is the Director of Enrollment Management. Always interested in “the story behind the child,” her position is as sweeping and complicated as it sounds, and she doesn’t take it lightly. Still she finds much joy, laughter and peace in her hectic workplace.
1. How long have you worked at BFS?
This is my 14th year. I started here as a third grade assistant teacher. I did that for three years and then moved into Admissions.
2. You’ve been a teacher, an administrator, a Board member, and a BFS parent, so you’re very versed in the school from multiple perspectives. How did you transition from teaching to Admissions?
While I was in the classroom I noticed I was very interested in the students’ social-emotional life. I wanted to focus on that, so I started to work on a degree in psychology. I was always interested in the story behind the child. I volunteered to lead tours for visiting families because I wanted to understand the school and admissions process better. Maybe as a result, [former Head of Admissions] Jennifer Knies offered me the opportunity to work in Admissions.
3. What kind of work did you do before you came to BFS?
I worked for a nonprofit in Connecticut. We worked with low-income kids in an afterschool and summer enrichment program in New London. During the summer, we lived in the housing projects with the kids to be more connected to how they and their families were living. Being that close to them in their communities helped us serve their interests better. For me, it was an impacting experience that shaped my views about race and class and how it relates to education and opportunity. I did that for four years, got married and moved here.
4. Tell me about your growing-up years.
I was born in Haiti and came to the US at age two. My parents were studying to be doctors in Port-au-Prince, and we moved to Chicago so my father could finish his residency. When my father became a pediatrician for the Air Force, we moved to New Mexico. We also lived in New Orleans for a while, but I lived most of my life in Miami. My parents pushed through gates they weren’t meant to push through to get my sister, brother and me the best education possible. When my parents learned about the International Baccalaureate program being offered at a magnet public school, they were committed to getting me enrolled. I don’t know what they did. All I know they walked into a room at a school and when they walked out I was going to be a student there. Sending me to Coral Gables instead of the high school in my neighborhood was the best thing they forced me to do. The IB program made me who I am. I was incredibly shy. If I could, I’d sit in the back row and never raise my hand or say a word. The IB didn’t allow for that at all. My teachers saw me and showed me parts of myself that I didn’t know existed.
5. Where did you go to college?
University of Miami. Go Hurricanes! I’m a huge Hurricanes fan.
6. Can you tell me about your husband?
His name is Eric. He’s from Brooklyn, and he was part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. He got assigned to a public school in Bed-Stuy, so that’s why we moved to Brooklyn. Today he’s a Middle School Division Head at the Calhoun School. Before that he was Director of Diversity at the Town School in Manhattan. He’s also a Berkeley Carroll School lifer and he’s currently on their Board, so he’s thoroughly immersed in New York’s independent school community. He isn’t Haitian but he knows a little Creole and a little French. He loves Haitian food. I love him for being so interested in learning about my culture.
7. Where do you guys live?
8. How do you spend your time when you’re away from BFS?
I mostly spend time with family. I have some uncles, aunts and cousins nearby so weekends are family-focused. And I have a little boy, Malcolm. He’s in the BFS Family Center. He’s two. So I’m also busy taking him to play dates. He’s a popular boy. My sister lives in Jersey City, and we spend a lot of time with her. She’s more fluent in French and Creole than I am so she and the rest of my family speak the other languages with Malcolm. It’s important for us that he knows all sides of his cultures.
9. What else do you like doing?
Enjoying the city. I don’t want to be one of those people who lives in the city and doesn’t know the city and its people. I love Brooklyn and taking Malcolm around to concerts and carousels, the parks and playgrounds, the beaches and boardwalks. We spend a lot of time at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This summer, we took him to Red Hook and The Lobster Pound. They have huge lobster tanks that he was fascinated by. He enjoyed talking to the lobsters. He also tried lobster for the first time and he liked it. He liked the corn and butter better, though.
10. Are you a Quaker?
I am not. I’m Catholic and I went to a Catholic elementary school in New Orleans. The first time I attended Quaker meeting the silence was deafening to me. It felt strange. Now, I realize that it is completely me. The idea of silence, diversity, honoring people’s perspectives is completely who I am –I don’t know why it felt so strange. This year, as a result of the Quaker Self-Study, I’m attending Meeting when my schedule allows. I’m on the QSS Steering Committee and one of the outcomes from the study last year is that all staff get to go to Quaker meeting now. I attend meeting with Middle School students and faculty.
11. I notice you said everyone gets to go, not has to go. I think that means you’re into it.
Silence is an important part of my work at the school but also an important part of my life. I like to be able to pause, reflect, or as one student put it, “reboot,” so I can go back to work with a sense of peace. And with this form of silence, you feel connected to something bigger and more important than yourself.
12.This is a busy time of year for Admissions, right?
It’s cyclical. This is our busiest time of year. Doing tours, interviewing families, visitors spending the day in classrooms. A new aspect of my job is to develop relationships with our current families, not just prospective families, and figure out how to retain them. That requires me getting to know people; why they come here, why they stay here. If people are thinking of leaving, for whatever reason, especially if it’s financial, it’s important for me to know about it and work with the Business Office and Financial Aid Coordinator. Generally, I am looking forward to collaborating with divisions and departments to support our retention.
13. And the Admissions office overall is expanding?
The structure of the Admissions office has changed to reflect the expansion of the student population. Admissions will also move from the 7th floor to the 1st floor in the next academic year to be more accessible to families, and more connected to the center of the school.
14. You have a lot of Admissions “veterans” working with you – people who have been at the school for years like you. Does that help?
Christina Clemente is the Associate Director of Admissions for the Middle and Upper School. She’s newest to BFS. She started last year. Everybody else has been here for a while. We are such a good team! We are so different from each other both here and outside of school. We come from vastly different backgrounds. It allows us to think deeply about our assumptions. The diversity is right there in front of us. We talk about ourselves, from the silly to the serious. We talk about socioeconomic issues, race and culture, gender topics – I like conversations like that. And I am so glad that the people I work with are not afraid to talk through difficult issues. We meet some interesting families and no one has a straightforward story. I like the complexities of people. Everyone on the Admissions team is funny ,which helps. They’re great at finding humor in everything, which is particularly helpful when things are stressful. I’m so happy to come to work every day.
15. The Admissions Office plays a crucial role in finding parents who will find success here, students who will find success here. A lot of what you do is determine whether a young student will thrive in the BFS culture.
It’s not a science. It’s not easy to do. It’s not something that I or anyone else in the office takes lightly. Even the language of who’s going to “fit in” makes me uneasy, especially when they’re young. We all have the capacity to be transformed by a good, solid education and by mindful, loving teachers.
16. Now it’s time to get serious. Desert island question. What three things?
Can I bring people? Sure. I’d bring my iPad. Definitely. Because that way I’d have access to my music, photo albums and books. Great. If I could bring a person I’d bring my son. I hope he likes desert islands. He would like the fruit and the beach. Oh! And I’d bring my favorite illustrated version of the book,The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. I guess I would need to bring some of Malcolm’s favorite books too. There are many to choose from to read over and over and over.
17. What’s your sign?
18. Does that have any meaning for you? Do you fit the Aquarian profile?
Fully so. Aquarians are known to be passionate, in a good sense. We’re all about justice and fairness. On the other hand, our emotions can sometimes cloud our thinking. Either way, I try to allow for all perspectives to exist. That’s probably why people come to me with their problems.
19. What’s one thing that’s always in your fridge?
Fruit. Mangoes, grapes, apples. Also Haitian food.
20. Like what?
Rice and beans. Rice, rice, rice with everything.