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By Laura McHale Holland
When San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Barbara Olds asked Gene Barresi if he'd step in as interim principal at Alvarado Elementary School, he jumped at the chance. The appointment is good through the end of this academic year, at which point the position will open for interviews. Barresi, who most recently served as principal at Horace Mann Academic Middle School, hopes to win the job permanently.
"Alvarado is a really wonderful place," he says of the Douglass Street school, which serves 490 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. "It's a not-so-hidden gem with great community involvement, great kids, innovative programs, and a staff that's been working really hard for the last eight or nine years. Test scores have been going up every year until, finally, last year the school broke the 800 mark, which is where the state wants our school to be."
The 800 score is part of California's accountability system for measuring school performance. The scale goes from 200 to 1,000. Eight years ago, Alvarado scored in the high 500s and has improved each successive year. Until a school reaches the 800 mark, the state gives it a target score for improving the next year, but once a school reaches 800, the state no longer imposes targets.
"This reflects very well on our teachers," Barresi says. "They're obviously using instructional time wisely and pacing themselves so they cover the standards in time for the tests, which usually happen in April, so you can't waste a lot of time."
Barresi is concerned with more than test scores. He wants to promote a collegial student-centered environment where children and adults feel valued. "We owe our children a happy childhood. We want to continue to improve students' skills, give them a sound foundation for middle school, and close the achievement gap that exists between Hispanic and African-American students and those of European and Asian descent."
Barresi, who lives 10 minutes from Alvarado in the Parkside District, moved to San Francisco 30 years ago. His career highlights include stints as vice principal at Benjamin Franklin Middle School and at Visitacion Valley Middle School.
Barresi doesn't anticipate needing to make major changes at Alvarado. Formerly shunned, Alvarado now has a waiting list. Its Spanish-language immersion program is highly regarded, and its PTA is applauded for backing arts education and other programs at the school. In short, Alvarado is doing well.
Most recently, the school finished some major renovations, making it conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Construction was funded through Proposition A, which supports school improvements and modernization.
"We did get some nice stuff, too," Barresi says. "Solar panels were installed as a teaching source on alternative energy, and huge planting beds were installed in the lower yard. Our green committee is going to plant all kinds of beautiful things there."
Barresi hopes he'll see the blooms for many seasons to come.