Elementary Principal of the Year Peter Van Court said participating in ACSA has broadened his exposure to education issues at the state and federal levels.
Van Court celebrates student diversity
July 12, 2021
ACSA Administrators of the Year graphic.
Name: Peter Van Court Award: Elementary Principal of the Year Title: Principal, Clarendon Elementary, San Francisco USD
ACSA highlights: Member since 2000; Elementary Education Council, 2019-Present; Region 5 VP of Legislative Action, 2014-2019; Region 5 George Hurley Service Award, 2016-2017; Region 5 VP of Committees, 2008-2012; Region 5 President, 2006-2007.
A highly diverse urban student community presents unique challenges for administrators at every grade level. In his 12 years as principal of Clarenden Elementary School in San Francisco USD, Peter Van Court has created a lasting positive impact by his dedication to steadfastly embracing and promoting equitable access for students, staff and the greater school community.
To Van Court, closing achievement gaps and promoting student success begins with an intrinsic commitment to the ethical treatment of others. Schoolwide expectations to be “Responsible, Respectful, Safe and Kind” are consistently promoted with Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies. Students are rewarded with positive feedback and prizes for modeling these behaviors and students who act out are engaged with restorative practices. Van Court has built an environment focused on social-emotional learning and inclusion models for Special Education, Second Language programs, technology-based learning and parent leadership and engagement. He established a Black Student Union and supports the Pride Club, ensuring that LGBTQ+ students and students of color feel safe and empowered in school.
Under his leadership, Clarenden Elementary has been recognized in the National Blue Ribbon and California Distinguished Schools programs and granted a Positive Based Intervention School Silver Award the Civic Learning Award from the CDE and the California Supreme Court.
“Through his effective leadership to strengthen a ‘one-school’ school community, [Van Court] bridges culturally, linguistically and socio-economically diverse communities, which include students and families from all across the city,” wrote E’leva Gibson, assistant superintendent for the PK-8 School Division Cohort at SFUSD.
“Peter Van Court is an outstanding educational leader because of his dedication, knowledge, experience, visibility and accessibility,” wrote Andrew Ishibashi, retired SFUSD principal and Region 5 consultant. “He personifies the vision that all students can learn and achieve educational excellence.”
What’s your favorite quote on leadership? “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi. What’s the best advice you’ve been given? “Your job is to develop relationships with Students and Families.” — Susan Wong, Pupil Services.
What’s your best strategy for work/life balance? My wife says this is an area for improvement. Hope that summer will bring some balance for me!
What are some life hacks that you would recommend for a new administrator? Listen to your staff and act with care and compassion. Tough decisions are often the most appreciated.
What would people be surprised to learn about you? I love working with my hands. This is part of the way I learn and how I have led instruction for many years. (Project based learning!)
What made you want to become a school administrator? I love putting together programs and services for parents, teachers and students. It is the most exciting thing ever to see this work in action.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to get where you are? Introducing new concepts when faced with the mindset “But this is the way it has always been done.”
What is your proudest accomplishment? Allowing for parents, teachers and students to have a voice in decision making and in their future.
How has ACSA supported you in your career/current position? ACSA has been a constant companion for over 20 years. I have participated in Academies, Councils and in leadership roles on State Committees and the local level. These experiences have helped to broaden my exposure to education, the Legislature and the bigger picture at the state and federal levels. With ACSA as a professional development resource I was always able to get timely information from my peers, staff and presenters in a multidimensional approach. ACSA has something for everyone and everyone has something for ACSA as “We are ACSA!”
What has the impact of the COVID-19 worldwide health crisis taught you? COVID-19 has helped me to become a better leader and a better person. We were forced to think out of the box and come up with new technology systems and tools in order for students to connect with their teachers and with school. Never before have we had parents participating in elementary school as we did last year. As a result, parents are more appreciative of the teaching profession than ever before. There is still lots of work to be done to rebuild next year, especially for those students who did not have the support at home, in a learning hub or at a community center that others were fortunate to have. This will be the challenge of 2021-2022.
Peter Van Court attending the 2019 Legislative Action Day.
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