Calabrese committed to safe, equitable schools
June 29, 2020
Safety and equity are not new touchpoints for Student Services personnel. But in the last few decades, the definitions of safety and equity continue to shift in dramatic and often overwhelming ways — no less in the past few months of school shutdowns amid a global pandemic and recent national racial injustice protests. For D. Chris Calabrese, director of Student Services at Brentwood Union School District, the latest school crisis is just one more opportunity for district leaders to be bold, creative and unwavering in their commitment to student success. In three years at his current position, Calabrese has worked collaboratively with district staff, principals and teachers to create a safe and equitable environment. He has led a district-wide effort on active school shooter training and education, implemented training on social-emotional programs and employee self-care, and cultivated culturally proficient policies and practices across the district. “Mr. Calabrese has a passion for people,” wrote Brentwood Union SD Superintendent Dana Eaton. “He is committed to building positive relationships and partnerships that allow him to work at a higher level. I have seen tremendous growth in him as a professional. He is committed to bettering student lives and that is demonstrated in his daily life.” What’s your favorite book on leadership? I cannot name just one, but I have listed my three current favorites below:
  • “Opening Doors: An Implementation Template for Cultural Proficiency” by Trudy Tuttle Arriaga;
  • “Leadershift — The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace” by John C Maxwell; and
  • “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business” by Patrick Lencioni.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given? My father told me, “You are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting” (he borrowed that quote from Ray Kroc). We had a peach orchard at the time. He pointed to a peach rotting on the ground as he said this. It stuck with me. I try to always be in a growth mindset, and to not be complacent with where I am at. I ask myself every day what have I learned today? How can I apply what I have learned? What are some of your favorite apps?
  • WhatsApp — We use this app to communicate with our leadership staff during an emergency when mass communication is necessary, and cell lines are functional. 
  • Google Keep Notes — This is a great app to keep track of “to-do” lists. It also helps break down steps for project management. 
  • ACSA App — To keep up on ACSA news, events, conferences, etc.
What are the top five life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? My hacks are more about knowing yourself than practical skills, but they have saved me time and grief.
  1. Know your core values. What makes you passionate about education? What are your beliefs about discipline, equity, leadership to name a few? Am I staying hungry, and humble? 
  2. Get into classrooms. Seeing learning brings us joy! Getting into the classroom helps me to better understand the challenges of today and keeps me connected to students. It allows me to better support teachers and administrators. 
  3. Build relationships with students, all staff and parents. Let them see how much you care, build trust and go the extra mile. 
  4. Use a digital calendar and a paper journal to take notes. No one can remember everything that happened in a day or a task to follow up on. 
  5. Be timely with getting back to people. An angry parent might be willing to listen to you about solving an issue. Not getting back to them in a timely manner will make the situation worse and take much longer to repair. 
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? I think most leaders go on a journey to get where they are at. I am not sure my story is any different. As a child I struggled with reading and later with math. I was not on a college pathway in high school. I surprised a few teachers when I returned to teach at my old high school. My greatest challenge was seeing myself as a teacher and as a leader. I worked with an amazing group of educators that mentored me and helped me overcome my greatest challenge, which was a belief in myself.  What are your proudest accomplishments? I am proud of the team of educators I get to work with every day. Together we have worked to ensure the safety of students and staff. In partnership with Sgt. Mitch Brouillette of Brentwood Police Department, 900 plus employees were trained in ALICE active shooter training. Those skills go far beyond the school site and far beyond active shooter situations; they are life skills that can be used daily. In addition, we partnered with Sandy Hook Promise to implement the Say Something App — an anonymous reporting system to help keep students safe. Supporting the mental health of our students is essential. Twelve lives were saved this school year directly due to this app/program.  The mental health of staff is equally important. This year working with teachers, counselors, and site administrators we created a self-care program called the “Year of You!” Every day, a positive message was delivered to the inbox of all staff members that signed up. It is simple, but the response has been amazing.  Who is someone who inspires you? There are many; the students I have worked with, educators whose classrooms I have been in, the people I work with daily. My parents are a source of my inspiration. They immigrated to America as young children, as English language learners that had to navigate an environment that was often hostile toward them. Their experience has provided me with a perspective that fuels my advocacy for equity. My wife and children inspire me daily for a multitude of reasons. What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you/how has it inspired you as an educator? We all know education will never be the same. I have seen students struggle with not being able to go to school and I have seen students thrive in this environment. I heard a great educator say, “We are being asked to solve problems that are not ours to solve.” I believe that is true. However as educators we do so because of our love for our students, the staff we work with and because we have a deep commitment to education.  Most of all I have learned to be bold with our leadership, this is a time where leaders can rise to the occasion. The lack of clarity creates uncertainty and uncertainty creates more fear. Although they say hope is not a strategy, hope is a necessary ingredient to inspire action and problem solving, which we all need right now. My hope is in educators, doctors, nurses and scientists who will figure out a vaccine or determine safe standards for us to open schools. I think we can come together and recreate schools that are more equitable, stronger academically, and safer for students and educators. It will take sitting on the same side of the table to do this. 
Brentwood USD Director of Student Services D. Chris Calabrese reads to students during distance learning.
Name: D. Chris Calabrese Award: Student Services Administrator of the Year Title: Director of Student Services, Brentwood Union School District ACSA highlights: member since 2002; Delta Charter President (current); Livermore Charter President and Region 6 Board Member (past).
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