We are only as strong as our people. This is likely true for every organization, but I can definitely say it is true for our schools.
While everyone plays an important role, principals are the glue that holds together the multicultural, multigenerational complex communities called schools. We can’t acknowledge them enough.
That’s why I want to introduce you to three new principals working in the Bayview area who have formed a unique alliance to support each other and transform their schools. Principals Joe Truss, Emmanuel Stewart and Michael Essien get together to play basketball, drink coffee and talk about how to lead their schools, all of which serve students who face some shared challenges.
Principal Truss, Visitacion Valley Middle School
Truss grew up in a single parent home in the Tenderloin. He attended public schools in the San Francisco Unified School District all his life — Spring Valley Elementary, Francisco Middle School and then Lowell High. After the SFUSD, he went on to study Spanish at UC Berkeley and earned his teaching credential at Tufts University.
Fortunately for San Francisco, Truss came back as an assistant principal at the Academy (formerly the Academy of Arts and Sciences), where he worked to expand culturally relevant teaching, project-based learning and student portfolio assessment — all the while decreasing truancy by 20 percent.
Now, he is hard at work as the new principal at Visitacion Valley Middle School, which, he says, is focused on “love, literacy and liberation.”
“We make sure kids get to know each other, that they are welcomed
each day and they are celebrated,” Truss said. “We are creating a school our kids are excited to come to every day.”
Principal Stewart, Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School
Stewart is another homegrown San Francisco educator who has been working in education for 24 years. He started out as a paraprofessional at Potrero Hill Middle School and Dr. William Cobb, and he now leads the school he taught at for 11 years: Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School.
Stewart understands this work will not be easy; however, he’s often reminded of his own experiences in the SFUSD and sees himself in his students’ faces and smiles.
“I’m making sure that Carver achievers come here with the joy of learning every day,” Stewart said. “I know that I need to be here in the Bayview-Hunters Point community doing this work at this time.”
Principal Essien, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School
Essien completed his undergraduate degree in African American Studies and his master’s degree in education, both at UC Berkeley.
He’s been in public education for 24 years, with the first 21 of those in the classroom teaching math and working as a special education instructor.
“I love my work,” Essien said. “Teaching in an urban setting and supporting students to transform their learning experience and life trajectory is fulfilling work. I embrace the challenges.”
While the credentials of all three principals are impressive, their unwavering commitment to social justice and continuous improvement make them stand out. I see how our school leaders are always reflecting on their own work and learning from each other to make things better for our kids, and all I can say is that we’re lucky to have such tremendous school leaders.
Richard A. Carranza is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.