One Latina's Campaign to Turn Around a School

group of graduates
Tami Espinosa and staff putting Brentwood Academy, comprised of largely Latino students, on course to achieve


Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series.

When Tami Espinosa first assumed the role of principal at an East Palo Alto charter school, Brentwood Academy was not meeting California state standards. The school, which serves a largely Latino population, also had extremely high rates of teacher turnover. In just two years, with the help of her staff, she was able to turn the scores around and turn around the staff attrition rates.

For Espinosa a life in education started when she first stepped into a classroom as a long-term substitute and taught a class of first-graders how to read. “That was a pretty life-changing experience. Every child that left my classroom was reading and I knew that I had impacted their lives because if they left first grade not reading that would put them on a downhill trajectory,” she recalls.

At the time, Espinosa was enrolled in the single subject credential program at Fresno State University. Immediately after that substitute teaching position ended, she switched her focus to elementary education.




The 800 Mark


Brentwood serves a population of working-class families. More than 90 percent of the school’s 600 students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. About 80 percent are English learners. Latino students comprise 75 percent of the population.

While Espinosa’s leadership helped bring the school above the 800 mark set by the state, last year Brentwood was merged with another school that was 100 points lower on the scale. As a result, the school is no longer achieving the academic performance level required, but Espinosa expects to turn that around shortly.


About the author

Evelyn Hoover