How East Bay Innovation Academy is Raising the Bar

The Oakland Raise the Bar Awards on Thursday, March 28 celebrates schools making exceptional achievement or growth possible for Black and Brown students in A-G, ELA or Math. (You can RSVP here.)

Great School Voices sat down with school leaders from award-winning schools to discuss what Raising the Bar means to their school community, why their school got involved in FIA, how they communicate with families, and more. This interview is with Miranda Thorman, the executive director of East Bay Innovation Academy (EBIA). Click on the video below to watch the full interview, and you can also view Miranda’s answer to each question in segments below.

What did it mean to you to raise the bar? 

The reason why I’m an educator, and I think everyone at Abia, as we call it, is here, is to make sure that we’re doing everything we can so that every single student can find success in whatever way that means when they graduate from high school. So when Abia was founded, one thing we did was make a commitment to increase our graduation requirements. So we’ve raised the bar for students to exceed the A through G requirements in the state of California, which we do through our computer science and career pathway program, as well as our additional sort of STEM electives. And I believe that gives kids the opportunity to explore different pathways to find themselves in their passions and to be really competitive when it comes to applying for college or jobs after they graduate.

What did you recommend to parents to help raise the bar?

We’re really proud of our success in terms of college and career readiness. The California Dashboard has added a college career indicator to the dashboard, and we are really proud to see our success in that area that, as I mentioned, is related to our computer science linked learning pathway, our dual enrollment opportunities, as well as our AP courses. We also have received awards from the College board for our student success in their AP classes, including an award for our female identified student achievement in computer science AP. And we communicate that out through messaging to our families through parent square, as well as celebrating students when they are honored.

What big data did you share with families and students, and how did you communicate that out?

We really want to make sure we’re partnering with our families to make sure they’re sort of learning about college and career readiness along with their students. So we do that through different events that we host for families through our director of college and career readiness, Ms. Kayla Jackson. And so we have events for families to teach them about the college application process to talk to them about filling out FAFSA and accessibility of financial aid and scholarships, and kind of walking them through that process along with their students. In addition, something unique about ABIA are our project expos and Capstone projects. So we invite families to come witness their student work at the end of each trimester and at the end of the year. One thing I would highlight is our senior defense. So every single senior has the opportunity to present what they’ve learned, their portfolio of work and their goals for the future to a group of folks, including their families, at the end of every year.

What feedback did you receive from families?

We hear from families that they really love the opportunity to witness their students work, to see their students grow in the time that we have middle school as well. So from a 6th to a twelveth grader or a 9th through a twelveth grader, just to see their maturity and what they’ve learned through their various kind of opportunities in the classroom and outside of the classroom. So families really love seeing that reflected back to them. They love being part of a small community where they are known, where they get to know other folks and appreciate kind of that engagement. I think they also have shared with us that they really like the communication that’s coming from the school in terms of events that parents can participate in.

Why did you get involved with FIA to Raise the Bar?

I think that FIA is doing really incredible work in Oakland to raise awareness around data and what schools are doing well so that we can learn from each other. I think education can get very siloed at times, and I think FIA is leading the way in terms of collaboration so that if something’s working somewhere, we can learn from each other and make sure that every single student in Oakland has opportunities and can be successful. I think FIA also offers really wonderful resources in terms of family engagement and kind of how to connect with families and make sure that our families are kind of leaders in pushing for better results for our kids in Oakland.

How did you raise the bar?

At East Bay Innovation Academy, like I said before, we have a standard that exceeds the A through G requirements. So we start with just baseline, having a higher expectation of our students and then making sure that we’re supporting them in all ways to get there. So we’re making sure that we are supporting them through our advisory program and our kind of social emotional learning that we’re providing individual support through. Whether it’s a student that has an IEP and has extra support from an education specialist or a student that is making sure they have time during our independent learning time blocks to go check in with their teachers and get additional support. So we’re really raising the bar through high expectations and high support, kind of concurrently to make sure that every kid has what they need. And then also we really invest in our adults. And so we’re making sure that we’re providing additional professional development to all of our teachers and instructional coaching on a biweekly basis, as well as our professional learning communities. So making sure that teachers are learning from each other and have the opportunity to continue to grow their practice so they can do their best for students.

What would you say is the secret sauce that were most impactful to raising the bar?

I believe that schools are all about people. And so I think that people are usually the secret sauce. And we have a lot of amazing people who are super dedicated at EBIA, and that includes students, and students being really passionate about advocating for themselves. Student agency and voice is one of our kind of key elements of design and our priority, and our students have opportunities in there. Each grade level has a leadership executive board, and those students really will speak out and advocate for what they need, which I think helps us stay accountable, make sure we’re providing them what they need to be successful. And I think one special thing about EBIA is that we are dedicated to innovation. It’s in our name. East Bay Innovation Academy. So we are always looking to make sure we are utilizing what’s coming out that’s innovative, staying attuned to education research, and not afraid to make bold changes when they need to happen to make sure that our kids continue to succeed.

What are some of the best practices you’ve instituted to help raise the bar?

It goes back to what I was speaking about before in terms of professional development. So really in the last three years, we’ve worked to implement our professional learning communities with teachers. So really making sure our teachers are working together collaboratively on vertical alignment on best practices. And I think that continuity and that dedication to making sure we’re all on the same page and continuing to improve has been one of our best practices. And I think that our involvement with Measure N in Oakland and the career pathway and utilizing resources and learning from other awesome schools in Oakland has been really helpful in helping us continue to expand our CTE pathway, additional internship and work based learning opportunities.

In what ways can our elected officials, the District, state, and community help you raise the bar?

 I would say that, number one, we need to give money to our educators and our community. I think that schools are functioning with a pretty low level of funding from the state, and it would be really awesome to see a greater. Just yesterday, actually, we had a visit from our creditor from the WASC association, and I was in a group of students speaking with them, and the students said the one thing they want is more money for the school, which kind of made me a little sad because I don’t think kids should be having to worry about that. And I don’t think money is the solution to everything. But it would be really awesome if we could provide more mental health resources to students, more intervention, support to students, and quite frankly, a lot of that comes from people. And so being able to hire and retain folks and in addition to that, be able to pay our staff of salary that they can live on in the Bay Area. And so I think we’re doing our best to make sure we’re centering our budget around students and around teachers in the classroom. But it’d be awesome to have elected officials, especially at the state level, support with that. And I think that locally I mentioned before, I love that FIA is really focused on collaboration and all of us working together for kids in Oakland. And I think that on a local level, our elected officials can do more to make sure that’s happening. We’re all here to educate kids. We’re all here for the same reason. And whether it’s a small charter school or large district school, I really think that we could do more to collaborate in service of kids in Oakland, to make sure that every single kid in Oakland can read, write, speak, have power to go forward and do their best in the world.

What do you think?

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