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Cloverdale Comments - July 2015

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Cloverdale Comments - July 2015

by Carol Russell

“Education is not preparation for life: Education is life itself.” —John Dewey

Meet Two Who Bring Education to Life in Cloverdale

Through his advocacy of pathways for parents to become part of their children’s education and for students to gain both a passion for learning and an understanding of its vital role in their daily lives and future careers, Superintendent for Cloverdale Unified School District, Jeremy Decker, is a prime example of the great educational reformer’s philosophy in action.

Jeremy’s career also epitomizes the possibilities now being created for Cloverdale students. Raised in Santa Rosa and, as most of us must at that age, finding his way after graduation from Elsie Allen, he arrived at Mendocino College where he excelled at basketball, ultimately transferring to SSU as a biology major on the road to becoming a doctor. Yet he had always wanted to teach! So, true to his heart, he became instead a science teacher. To be with his wife while she went to dental school, he moved to Arizona where, in rapid succession, he: taught biology; became Department Chair and Athletic Director; coached teachers; and, as Assistant Principal, helped his school rank #1 in the state. 

One of his own former teachers told Jeremy about an opening as Assistant Principal at our Washington Middle School. He got the job and the Deckers came home to a “bit of a whirlwind” with Jeremy encouraged to apply first for Director of Curriculum, then for Assistant Superintendent, Acting Superintendent, Interim Superintendent and, in February, 2015, Superintendent. Definitely a whirlwind ascent!

By expanding STEM (the nationwide Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math curriculum) into the innovative STEAM (which adds “Arts” to the mix), Jeremy is emphasizing a more rounded, inclusive human perspective while bringing greater focus, discipline, critical and creative thinking to every class. Rhythms in music, for example, help students find the rhythms in language and reading, while visual arts encourage curiosity and exploring new options. After all, engineering and design go hand-in-hand while the personal and team creativity encouraged by the Arts is the same creativity that drives innovation in every field.   

School libraries are now reopened with managers and increased collections plus Macs and PCs loaded with advanced programs enabling students to explore film-making and animation as well as do the research necessary to produce quality reports. Laptops and Chrome books can be checked out allowing those without access to computers to work at home, too. Libraries are even open after hours. Tutors are available to help with homework while Jefferson Elementary is forming a Homework Club in which parents and students work together.

Greater outreach to parents is creating a path to become involved with our schools and with their children’s own educational experiences. One example is ELAC (the English Learners Advisory Committee). Last year only 11 parents participated across our whole county, while outreach this year has already resulted in 92 parents becoming involved in Cloverdale alone. 

Oh, Oh!!! 

You’ve just been called to the Principal’s office! Only two possibilities: since it is unlikely you’ve been named valedictorian, you must be in BIG trouble!! 

But not if you’re on your way to see Teresa Burke, the popular, dynamic Principal of Cloverdale High School/Johana Echols-Hanson Continuation. She invites students into her office for an assortment of wonderful reasons. Yes, you might be valedictorian, but most likely you’re going there to receive encouragement, praise and help. 

Eric Neal, a retired CHS counselor, describes Teresa, who’s also retiring after 36 years in education, as “hard working” and someone who “expects the best from all the students.”   

Here is a dedicated, innovative educator who clearly believes in giving the “more individualized attention” possible within a small town school of 450 students. One very special focus, and source of pride, during her tenure has been encouraging all students, especially those who were the first in their families to attend college. In fact, 2015 saw a 89.1% graduation rate. Obviously, the encouragement found at CHS is working! 

Teresa also clearly appreciates the availability of CHS teachers and staff and the respect they show students and receive. She readily gives them credit, too, pointing out the qualities she admires in them and for which she is grateful. This acknowledgement of others is the mark of a fine educator—and of a generous leader.