Middle school leader promotes academic excellence

Middle school leaders are often faced with the unique challenge of educating students who are caught between two worlds. They are not yet teenagers, but are no longer young children.

Providing quality education to students in this transitional period can be tough, but not for Crechena Wise, principal of Tetzlaff Accelerated Learning Academy in the ABC Unified School District.

Crechena Wise, center, is honored for her successful turnaround of Tetzlaff Accelerated Learning Academy.

Crechena Wise, center, is honored for her successful turnaround of Tetzlaff Accelerated Learning Academy.

Wise, who has been named the Association of California School Administrator’s Middle Grades Leader of the Year, said middle school is her passion, and she is proud to have the opportunity to nurture the whole child. She has only ever taught at the middle grades level and is dedicated to her chosen field.

“I really enjoy the age and being a part of their growth – social, emotional and academic,” she said. “It’s interesting to watch them transform from childhood to adolescence.”

Wise, who has been principal at Tetzlaff since 2008, has focused strategically on closing the achievement gap and increasing academic performance, especially among African American and Latino boys.

“My goal is to create a great team to efficiently run the operations of our school and ensure the best education for all students. I am very fortunate to work on an exceptional team,” she said.

Wise said the biggest change in student achievement has resulted from the implementation of a high-quality curriculum. Tetzlaff is the only school in the ABC district to use SpringBoard, the pre-Advanced Placement curriculum offered by the College Board.

Since SpringBoard’s implementation, Tetzlaff has seen great results. The school was named a National Demonstration School – the only one in the state. In addition, the school’s Academic Performance Index rating increased from 789 in 2007-08 to 858 in 2012-13. As a result of these strides, the school was named a California Distinguished School in 2013.

The turnaround extended far beyond test scores; the entire school climate improved.

“With the curriculum and student collaboration, kids learned self-efficacy and how to collaborate with each other in the learning environment,” Wise said.

I want to make a difference in my community. My family moved from poverty to the middle class, and I want that for my students. I know what the end results look like, and I push them to do the best they can.
— Crechena Wise

Tetzlaff also received a Schools-to-Watch designation in 2014, and uses the STW rubric to promote academic excellence. Wise called the rubric a powerful tool that covers academic excellence, developmental responsiveness, social equity, and organizational support and processes.

As much as she loves her profession, Wise admits it is not without its challenges. While money isn’t the root of all problems, it does impact her ability to deliver the services and resources her students need.

“I’m passionate about addressing the needs of students and tapping into resources from our community to ensure funding is never an issue that keeps us from providing opportunities,” she said.

Wise said the importance of education was instilled in her from a very young age. It all began with her grandmother, who, working as a maid in Alabama, wanted more for her own children. Knowing her options as an African-American female were limited, she opened a small business and saved every penny to send her granddaughters to school.

“Teaching and education is in my blood,” Wise said. “I want to make a difference in my community. My family moved from poverty to the middle class, and I want that for my students. I know what the end results look like, and I push them to do the best they can.”

Wise is known as an education leader who is undaunted in her mission to provide high-quality instruction to all students. She is a collaborator who is able to rally the entire school community to work toward the common goal of preparing all students for high school, college and beyond.

“Crechena’s leadership has transformed Tetzlaff Middle School from a school without a vision to an award-winning model of exemplary middle school education,” said ABC Unified Director of Schools Cheryl Bodger. “Crechena is a dedicated educator who is committed to the vision of equity and opportunity for all students.”

Wise said she wouldn’t be where she is without the strong women who came before her, especially her mother, who was her first teacher. She was also mentored by her first and third grade teachers, as well as her superintendent, ACSA leader Mary Sieu. “She is so inspirational and one of the smartest women I know,” Wise said.

ACSA has also played a great role in Wise’s success, providing quality professional development and camaraderie through her service on the state Middle Grades Council.

“ACSA is committed to serving students and is a catalyst for change,” she said.

Originally appeared in EdCal, www.acsa.org