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Teriena Schwartz has seen first-hand that for many students, school is not just a place to learn. She started her educational career working as a school social worker allowing her to understand students' lives more in-depth. The skills and lessons she learned there shine brightly in her leadership styles now. She is constantly checking in with staff to make sure to check in from a mental health standpoint. Her staff has the freedom to take risks, share openly, and ask for assistance without being judged. Because of how she leads her team, she and the staff feel they can best serve the incredibly diverse students that fill the halls of Hope Academy. Many of their students are first-generation high school students and English Language Learners. A patient, kind soul is needed to help these students navigate life and Teriena is the perfect person for it.
I greet our students every morning. I get to know their names, their likes and dislikes, their hopes and dreams. I look for their strengths, and I explore with them their fears. I believe that it is through human relationships that we are able to grow and learn. My top priority is to ensure every student has access to a highly qualified teacher, a guaranteed curriculum that meets their academic needs, and a support system that focuses on their social, emotional, and physical well-being. I align the hopes and dreams of our parents with those of the school. I believe every parent and family wants what is best for their student, and will partner with the school to ensure their success when they feel respected, and empowered. Membership in our Parents of Hope group has tripled over the past 3 years. I believe in shared leadership and growing leaders. At Hope Academy staff are either being “coached up” or being “coached out.” My job is to support excellence. I commit to weekly classroom walk throughs using High Quality Instruction documents. Each week I select a group of teachers to observe and provide feedback, and meet with them in coaching to examine both teacher actions and student actions. This data is used to inform decisions surrounding professional development, curriculum, and supports. I partner with community businesses and organizations. Under my leadership, community partnerships have increased significantly.
Knowing how far Hope Academy of West Michigan has come makes me smile. From being on the front page in the Grand Rapids Press about a story of gang shooting near the school during its first year, to being identified as a Priority School in its fourth year, and finally to being a community school that is a “safe place for students to learn and grow.” A place where people are proud to work, excited to make a difference, and committed to continuous improvement. But there are not many rewards for this kind of change, for this kind of growth, for this kind of evidence of students, parents, teachers, and community partners coming together to create a place of learning. Hope Academy is not yet a Blue Ribbon School, it is not yet an Exemplary School, and it has not yet been awarded the College Success Award. But we are on our way to excellence, and every year we improve. We are doing great things, and I am proud of our students, our parents, our teachers and our community.