• Hamish Brewer told the educators they must meet the needs of all learners to effectively close the achievement gap.
  • More than 400 educators attended the annual summit that provides schools and districts with dropout prevention and re-engagement strategies.

By Mike Marsee

Hamish Brewer isn’t afraid to shake things up.

Brewer challenged a group of educators to do the same at the Persistence to Graduation Summit, an annual event held by the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) to provide schools and districts with dropout prevention and re-engagement strategies.

Brewer – a Virginia elementary and middle school principal, author and speaker – delivered a keynote address at the summit co-sponsored by KDE and AdvancEd and Measured Progress. His career has centered on educating students who come from poverty and from different cultures, and he talked of the importance of advocating for every student.

“We need to be the advocate for every single child. Every child deserves to have an advocate, an adult, somebody who cares about them,” Brewer said.

Brewer, a New Zealand native with a penchant for tattoos and skateboarding, currently serves as principal at Fred Lynn Middle School in Woodbridge, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. He was named the 2017 National Distinguished Principal from Virginia by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and a 2018 Northern Virginian of the Year by Northern Virginia magazine. His book, “Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm,” recently was released.

Brewer instituted changes at his school in areas ranging from instruction to the appearance of the building, which features graffiti murals in the hallways that are meant to inspire students.

“The expectations you set for your school become the expectations for everybody,” he said. “We raise the expectations for all of us and we raise the expectations for our students.”

He underscored the value of disrupting the status quo when he spoke to a smaller group during a summit session on improving literacy programs.

“We have to change the mindset of how we look at reading,” Brewer said. “Old school, new school – it’s all school. Do what works for kids.”

Brewer said schools must meet the needs of all learners to effectively close the achievement gap, and he said his school got some of the highest results with the most at-risk students.

“We went into small group instruction,” he said. “We went from rows to small group instruction to differentiating the educational process. Everybody in our building owns the outcome of what happens in our building.”

More than 400 educators attended the Persistence to Graduation Summit, where safe and supportive learning environments were the theme. Summit topics included well-rounded educational opportunities, student transition and re-engagement strategies, alternative education and effective use of education technology.

The summit, which began in 2016, is one of the ways in which KDE provides support to help schools and districts to identify and assist students who may be off track for promotion, on-time graduation or college and career readiness.

“The summit is an effort to provide training and support to districts,” said Christina Weeter, the director of KDE’s Division of Student Success. “We’re glad that so many districts take advantage of this opportunity to learn about practices and tips they can use to help all students succeed.”


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