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Conversation with Barbara Shirley

SCOPE honors Alta Vista Principal Barbara Shirley as 2016 Boundary Crosser.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. September 8, 2016
Through programs like the Eagle Academy  at Alta Vista Elementary School, Principal Barbara Shirley has helped cross boundaries to meet the needs of her students.
Through programs like the Eagle Academy at Alta Vista Elementary School, Principal Barbara Shirley has helped cross boundaries to meet the needs of her students.
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In her 10 years as principal of Alta Vista Elementary School, Barbara Shirley has implemented programs to improve the lives of students and parents at the Title 1 school.

Since 2012, the Eagle Academy summer program has helped students prepare before the start of the school year to counteract the “summer slide” of skills. The Parent University provides parents and guardians with access to vocational classes on the same campus as their children.

SCOPE will present Shirley with its Boundary Crosser Award Sept. 13, at Michael’s On East.

Why did you see the need for a summer program?
One of the things we say as principals is that if we only had more time with students, it would really help us to focus and zero in on areas that are challenging them. 

In coming to Alta Vista, working with children who come in with varied backgrounds, we found that they were coming to school less prepared. Their vocabulary and language skills were where they struggled. That, of course, is the foundation for reading, for oral and written language, to build on for other academic areas.

How did the Eagle Academy summer program start?
In 2012, we started the Eagle Academy with the help of Joe and Mary Kay Henson. They provided the financial support, but more so the mentorship and the belief in us as a school. We had five weeks to better prepare them for the school year. When we pretested and post-tested them, we found that it truly did make a difference. They were better prepared.

How did you go from helping students to educating parents?
In a case when you’re working with families that don’t have the same economic levels, many of their priorities are survival. We want to be able to provide opportunities for our students and their parents to reach their goals. Our Parent University started during the summer of 2012, during our first Eagle Academy. We wanted to use this time to provide educational opportunities for our parents. The courses we offered focused on parenting skills, strategies for school success and how you can work with your children at home, reading, math and English as a second language.

What needs do the students have that you hope to address?
The Patterson Foundation, Community Foundation and Rotary Foundation have come together, and we’re getting ready to start a dental program on campus for children, which is a tremendous area of need. So many of our children come in with toothaches. It’s a distraction, plus they’re in pain, and they shouldn’t have to be.

What’s next for the Eagle Academy and Parent University?
Our goal was always to create a program model to make sure it had the credibility and results to support to move it to other Title 1 schools. It’s not just about our children and our families; it’s about all children. This past summer, three other Title 1 schools in the north county started their own summer programs. Now, we have summer learning academies in the four farthest north schools: Alta Vista, Gocio, Tuttle and Emma E. Booker.

What’s next for Alta Vista?
We have formed a committee to look at initiatives. There’s a tremendous amount of layered leadership at Alta Vista. It’s really beautiful because the staff has found places for them to personally grow and develop as professionals.


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