By Megha Khemka, Copy Editor
Ms. Kat is Payton’s Director of Climate and Culture. She wants students to know that her office is a safe place to hang out, cry, or take a minute to get themselves together.
Paw Print: Hello. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: My name is Kat Hindmand. No one gets Hindman right – they mispronounce it, they spell it wrong. So I just go by Ms. Kat, which is less formal, which I prefer anyway. I’m the Director of Climate and Culture. My pronouns are she/her, and [as of this interview], this was my third official week at Payton. Time flies.
Paw Print: What drew you to Chicago? Your introduction in the Payton Pulse mentioned that you lived in New York for some time.
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I’m an Army brat. I grew up all over the country. When I was in college, I decided to take a gap year and move to New York. The day I graduated I went right back to New York, and I ended up living there for about 15 years. My partner and I moved to Chicago in 2003, because she’s a college professor and she got a job at UIC (University of Illinois Chicago). So now we’ve been here 17 years.
Paw Print: What area of Chicago do you live in?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: Lincoln Square. Like Lawrence and Western.
Paw Print: Favorite song?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I’m all about ‘70s and ‘80s R&B. Anita Baker. Whitney Houston. I used to have dreams that I was at a party with Whitney, and I was trying to convince her to go to rehab. And she didn’t go. I tried. I tried in my head.
Paw Print: It’s the thought that counts. Pets?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I’m a crazy cat lady, okay? I am living the dream. [I have] five. They’re beautiful. I actually have a tattoo on my arm, which is a word find, and it has the names of all my cats. And I’m on the board of the Treehouse Humane Society, which is an animal shelter with cats.
Paw Print: How did you start working with CPS?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I’m a licensed clinical social worker, and my background is doing trauma work. For many years, I worked for the American Red Cross doing disaster mental health services, and that turned into emergency management. When we moved to Chicago, I was the director of Disaster Services at the Chicago Red Cross. I was there for many years, but then we had a child. It’s very hard to have a little one when you’re on call all the time and you have to answer three alarm fires in the middle of the night.
I ended up doing safety and security with CPS. I was responsible at one point for 300 CPS schools, and Payton was one of them. I got to work with Mr. Devine when he was here as the principal. Then, the principal at Taft High School convinced me to come to Taft and work with the students there and I said okay. So I was there for seven years. And now I’m here.
Paw Print: What most stands out to you about Payton compared to the other places you’ve been? What’s your favorite thing about the school so far?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I like that the students I’ve come into contact with so far are really passionate. It can be about anything, they’re just passionate. To see all the clubs and the advocacy; it’s fabulous. The kids here are definitely driven and motivated to do well in life, and they get the connection between doing well in school and doing well in life. So it’s nice to see that, but at the same time, I also worry about kids being too hard on themselves.
Paw Print: So I think the biggest question in the minds of a lot of people is: what exactly does a Director of Climate and Culture do?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: What I like to tell people is that I’m really the “Director of This, That, and the Other.” It’s a whole bunch of things, everything from safety issues and environment issues – people feeling welcome and safe – to social and emotional learning. Mental health supports, discipline, teaching people how to use their mistakes as opportunities to learn. It’s really about providing that support on the back end, behind the scenes in terms of what kids need.
Paw Print: How do you make sure that everyone is being included in climate and culture, that people are being heard?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I think it requires vigilance and diligence. A lot of kids in Chicago, because it’s so segregated, grew up in an all-white or all-Black area, and then you come to high school and you’re surrounded by all these folks who you’ve never been exposed to before. It means having hard conversations, and bringing people together who maybe haven’t had those conversations.
I’m going to work really hard to try and educate folks and help them see why something is silly and harmful. And I’m not going to be able to change everybody’s minds, especially if they’re reproducing what they’ve been taught by their own families. But I am at the very least going to say: you may feel this way about certain groups of people, but you need to leave it at the door. It is not okay here. This is a welcoming community for everybody. We want everybody to feel safe. And if you can’t get with that, keep your mouth shut.
That’s a lesson people are gonna have to learn in life too. Once you’re an adult, people don’t play. If you do something wrong, you could be in big trouble; you could lose your job. So it’s better to learn these things now, while there’s more of a safety net, so people will be more prepared for when the net goes away. Because it will.
Paw Print: Based on your three weeks here, if you could make one major shift at Payton in terms of climate and culture, what would it be?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I still have a lot of information collecting to do. From what I see so far, kids are really intrinsically motivated to do well. But it’s hard if you’re always competing against friends, right? I could see how that would really weigh on somebody, if my best friend got a 99 and I only got a 96. I really see high school a microcosm of society. Folks in society are out there saying, “You got to do this, you have to go to the best school.” The truth is, the best schools are great, but there are a lot of great schools. It’s not just about the school you go to – it’s what you do with the material you’re exposed to, how far you delve into it. Going to the best school or getting the job that pays the most doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be successful or happy or financially well off. I deal with a lot of mental health issues and being a perfectionist and driving yourself so hard can really affect your mental health. So it’s about trying to find that balance.
How can I be successful in what I do, but also still have all the other things that are appealing in life? Because life is short. My dad once told me that the older you get, the faster time flies. He was right. Because now I’m ancient, and I have a 12 year old kid. I don’t know how that happened. I just don’t want people to be in a position when they’re 85 or 90, looking back on their lives and thinking, “I wish I had spent more time with my family, and I wish I had spent more time with my friends and doing fun things.”
Paw Print: Last question. If there’s one thing that students take away from this about you personally, your role at Payton, what would that be?
Ms. Kat Hindmand: I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but my office is safe. If you’re having a hard day, if you need a place to cry, if you just need a minute to get your head together, right, you can come here. If you need to vent. It’s all good. Everybody needs that. Everybody needs a place to go once in a while to just lose their shit. And that’s okay. Because we all do it.
I would encourage everyone to make sure they have at least one adult, somebody in the building they can go to just you know, who can be supportive and who can listen, because we all need that. I needed it. I still need it. Everybody does. This is a safe space. I got your back. I’m not here to bust your chops. I’m here to help get you ready for real life.
Life is not an easy thing to do.
Paw Print: I appreciate that. Thank you so much for your time. Have a great weekend!