Making Changes as a Lame Duck Principal at Clayton Valley High

Sue Brothers just became the principal at Clayton Valley on July 1, but with the school likely to become a charter, this could be her only year in charge.

Sue Brothers sees the writing on the wall.

The new principal knows this could probably be her one and only year at the helm. The push to convert Clayton Valley into a charter school by next fall isn't a sure thing yet, but , and with the conversion Brothers knows she will be out of job.

"This is sort of a one-year thing, but that's fine," Brothers said. "I think my skill set and what I know how to do well is a good match for the school's needs. I think the charter people would agree that it's critical to work on rule enforcement and others things this year, which the charter wants to do next year."

Brothers, 54, has spent her career in education. She was a science teacher for more than 15 years in the Sacramento area. Before coming to Clayton Valley, Brothers was the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services at the Washington Unified School District.

But with her children now graduated from high school, Brothers was free to move and take on a new challenge. She officially took over on July 1, succeeding , and says she was fully aware of the charter campaign when she applied for the job and wasn't concerned about it. She just wants to do as good a job as possible this year.

"I've spent the last 10 years in district offices and spent a lot of time in the last couple years in some really struggling schools, supporting teachers and administrators to move student performance forward," Brothers said. "I really enjoyed that. I was back with the kids, and I realized that was the part of the job that really gave me joy. So I wanted to go back and be a high school principal."

Early this summer, Brothers met with parents to discuss the issues facing the school. The parents wanted basic rules enforced (the dress code, for example) and were concerned about the students' struggles in math.

Brothers has made improving math skills a priority. She meets every Wednesday with the math department and on Nov. 1 the school is implementing a new tutoring program, where successful students will be paid to tutor students who are struggling in math, English, science, Spanish and French.

"The tutors are going to be paid $11.26 an hour and spend 90 minutes tutoring and a half hour working with a teacher to prepare for the next day," Brothers said. "For math, we are going to allow students to retake tests if they get tutoring help. One of the problems is students get off to a bad start and they lose hope and just give up. So this will let them get back on track and doing well in class."

Parents seem impressed Brothers has been able to handle the charter conversion hanging over her head and still focus on improving the school, if only for one  year.

Alison Bacigalupo, the Parent Faculty Club president, said she likes how Brothers has jumped right in and tried to make substantive changes.

"To let even one more year go by without some of these changes would have been a serious problem," Bacigalupo said. "Having said that, Sue has been frank in her discussions with parents regarding the charter conversion. She's been clear in that any program changes or improvements that she can institute may or may not continue under the conversion next year. I, for one, have always appreciated that she's been up front about the 'elephant in the room.' "

Students also seem to be warming to the new principal. Emily Ly, a senior, said she was first concerned because she heard Brothers might implement some restrictions that could hinder her last year of high school. But after meeting her, Ly was relieved to know her worries were unfounded.

"The first time my leadership class got to speak with her we didn't expect to talk to someone so enthusiastic about school spirit and increasing student activities," Ly said. "We didn't expect her to be funny either. Some students may dislike her for 'dress-coding' them, but if they talked to her as a person they would realize she has the best intentions for Clayton Valley."

Brothers didn't comment on whether she thinks converting Clayton Valley into a charter is a good idea. She did say she is in favor of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District Board approving it with conditions, a decision charter supporters .

"It's nice to have a good idea, but the problem is (executing) it," Brothers said. "You still have to meet payroll and get all those details done."

When asked if she has started job hunting, Brothers said, "No, not yet."


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