This April, Terrence Davis and a group of founding parents and community members submitted a petition for a new school in Southeast San Francisco to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). Davis and supporters have been working on the school design and engaging the community for the past two years. The school is named in honor of the late community leader, Mary L. Booker. The school hopes to open its doors in the fall of 2019 with grades 6-8 and will eventually serve grades 6-12. Learn more about Mary L. Booker Academy.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I am a proud graduate of Morehouse College, a Historically Black College in Atlanta, Georgia and have worked in education for the past 9 years as a teacher and administrator. I started my career as a Special Education teacher at High Tech High in San Diego, California. High Tech High is most known for project-based learning, an approach that allows students to work on skills for an extended period of time using investigative skills and authentic, engaging projects. In 2012, I moved to Chicago with my wife who is middle school math teacher. There, I worked for the Noble Network, a charter school network most known for supporting 100% of its students to graduate and get accepted to college. In Chicago, I worked as both a teacher and director specifically for students with diverse learning needs. As a director of Special Education, I was responsible for building a program that met the needs of a diverse group of needs ranging from students who struggled with reading and math to students who had physical limitations.
What brought you to San Francisco?
After living away from California, my wife and I were excited to move closer to home and family. San Francisco has brought us closer to home while also giving us the opportunity to build a new community for ourselves. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support the community has provided us. San Francisco is such a vibrant, diverse city that I am excited to join. We’ve appreciated how welcoming everyone has been since we started this process.
You’re planning to start a school called Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy. Can you tell us more about the school?
We are working to open a new free, public charter school in Southeast San Francisco, serving grades 6-12. Our core values are Community, Equity and Leadership. Our school model will be a blend of engaging, rigorous long-term projects blended with time for students to work at their own pace. We believe that to meet the needs of all students, we need a flexible model that adapts to each students individual needs.
Why did you decide to start this school?
The idea to start a school started about 4 to 5 years ago. I have been fortunate enough to have worked at several high-performing schools who have focused on student achievement and creating opportunities for all students. As the person responsible for working with students who often have the hardest time in school, including those with special needs, I recognized that we need to improve upon our traditional model of schooling. I believe that the way we address the educational disparities that we are facing in this country is to continue to build on what we know has been successful and innovate in the areas that are lacking.
Tell us more about your own educational experiences. Did you go to public schools, what was that like, and how has that motivated you?
I attended public schools from kindergarten through high school. I was actually a part of the first graduating class at my high school. I was fortunate enough to have parents who set the expectation that I would attain a college degree. They, along with my extended family, encouraged and supported me throughout my formative years. I would describe myself as an athlete in high school (football, basketball and track) who understood the importance of balancing sports with school.
Tell us about your family.
I come from a long line of educators – my father worked for Southwestern Community College for 25 years, while my mother worked for San Diego Unified School District for over 15 years. My parents instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic and treating people the way you would like to be treated. My brothers and I have all been fortunate enough to have options in life because we came from a strong nucleus.
How has being a husband and father shaped your view of education?
I met my wife at a high school basketball game about 15 years ago, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. My wife has been my confidant and supporter for as long as I can remember and is one of the main reasons that I am the man I am today. Becoming a father was a huge shift for me. Jayden, who is two, and Elijah, who is five months, have brought so much joy to my wife and I. Having been an educator and working with students, the idea of fatherhood makes everything much more personal. My wife and I have the same conversations that all parents have: “Who will our sons grow up to be? How will we keep them safe and happy?” My wife and boys give me motivation every morning to create something special not just for them but for all students.
What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
I love seeing the light bulb go off when a student has learned something new. As a teacher, I think you work every day to get to the point that your students can see the bigger picture. I want school to be something more than what happens in the school building. I want my students to see the connection to the world around them and themselves.
What makes Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy unique?
We are a school founded by the community. I came to San Francisco with an idea, and I was greeted by a group of families excited about making a change in their community. Since then we’ve worked together to design a school that will hopefully make the community proud. This community aspect will continue when we open our school. Each student will have a Dream Team, a collection of individuals that are brought together to develop a village for each student. In addition, we’ve thought critically about how we can best support each student individually and when they would benefit from learning from each other.
Who should attend Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy?
Mary L. Booker Leadership Academy will be open to all middle and high school students in San Francisco. We have developed a model that will adapt to each student’s needs and set them up for success. We welcome everyone and are committed to meeting the unique needs of all our diverse students to help them learn, find success and thrive.