August 20, 2014
Dear Parents & Guardians,
Happy New School Year!
I am thrilled to open this school year in my 6th year as principal of the best middle school in Oakland. I pen this welcome letter from the retreat center in Mill Valley, where teachers will soon show up to kick off the year. It is 6:11 AM, on August 20th, 2014.
2014 is an exciting school year in Academic Achievement, Community Building and Total Health, the three pillars of our school vision, established in 2011. We are deepening our work in Common Core State Standards in Language Arts, Social Science and Math. We also are part of a cohort of schools that will pilot the Next Generation Science Standards.
Culturally, Edna Brewer is an inclusive school community where social and emotional learning are prioritized. In terms of our student body, we are one of the most heterogeneous schools in the city; our students come from every corner of Oakland.
Our discipline policies focus more on learning and community-building than punishment, and we are spending time and resources to strengthen community with weekly advisory class activities and other initiatives that make us more connected to each other. When we are better connected to each other, we build a stronger community, which facilitates physical and emotional safety and ultimately learning.
We prioritize physical health as well. Our PE program is rigorous and we give students break time between long block periods, so students can move their bodies and engage in play. Total Health is also facilitated by enrichment activities like Music, Art and Drama, three programs that are growing from year to year with the support of an incredible PTSA and a staff that is dedicated to the arts and enrichment.
We received a number of accolades this year for our work in 2013/2014. We reduced suspensions school-wide by 58% and we reduced the suspensions for African American students by 44%. Our chronic absence rate is the lowest of all middle schools in Oakland Unified. Academically, we made significant headway in our initiative related to Academic Conversations. There was increased collaboration in the Humanities Departments and in Math and Humanities, we engaged in an innovative professional development called Lesson Study, in collaboration with Mills College. Two of our teachers were part of a psychology study with UC Berkeley, that focused on how to get students deeply engaged in Academic Conversations. Other 2013/2014 innovations included blended learning in Language Arts, piloting Drama class and a new online gradebook called Schoology.
In 2014/2015, we will stay the course with Restorative Justice and Common Core Implementation. We will continue our work in Academic Conversations and begin to deeply focus on a reading strategy called Close Reading. We want students to be proficient in reading complex text. We are reinvesting in SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) and making it a graded, two-unit class. Students need a lot of practice independently reading in their “comfort zones” in SSR which will be complemented by teachers stretching student literacy with the Close Reading strategy in Language Arts and across the disciplines.
Another key kind of literacy is computer literacy. With 15 Chrome Book carts purchased with OUSD and grant resources, Edna Brewer’s technology infrastructure is strong. We will expand our Blended Learning initiative from Language Arts to Math, Science and Social Science.
I close with a realization that I had this summer. I have often thought of my job to serve guardians and parents as customer service. While there are many parallels, our work together for the advancement of your child is not a customer relationship. It’s a partnership.
Edna Brewer certainly needs to do its part, and I want both positive and constructive feedback on how we are educating your most precious resource, your children. Parents and guardians: please do your part too. Please be nosy! Don’t believe your child when he says, “I have no homework, Dad.” Check on Schoology, and check on it often; open your child’s backpack and binder and keep up with your child’s progress in school. Please butt into your child’s social media use too—Facebook is not a right for 13 year olds! Please get your needs met from your child’s teachers, but please do not overestimate the school’s financial, staffing or time resources. We have a $100k deficit from last year, and we have lost a key position of Mental Health Coordinator. We have a fabulous PTSA and I am trying to creatively get back this most essential position.
We have an incredible school community and I am humbled to be your school principal. Edna Brewer has made me a better educator and better person. Thanks for reading my letter, and..
Lowest Chronic Absence, Biggest reduction in suspensions and biggest reduction in suspensions for African American students.