STRIVE Prep should be integral to a reimagined Montbello campus

We are proud of the community we’ve built and the students we’re privileged to serve at STRIVE Prep – Montbello Middle School

As a true neighborhood school, most of our students live less than a mile from campus and walk to school. They and their families are drawn to the close-knit, supportive environment focused on holistic support for academic growth and social-emotional needs during adolescence. 

We are excited to see the community come together to build a vision for secondary education in Montbello. As a school passionately dedicated to preparing students for high school and beyond, we want to be a part of that future. 

So it’s been unsettling to our families and staff that until now, the conversation about our fate has been avoided in the Reimagining Montbello process.  Our families are part of the Montbello community.  They have chosen to attend STRIVE Prep, and see our school as a vital part of the equitable future and improved educational outcomes we are all seeking for our kids. 

Many people have this idea that charter schools are in the business of getting rid of so-called “problem children,” but here at STRIVE Prep – Montbello, once a student is ours, he or she is always ours. Families appreciate when their kids who’ve struggled elsewhere feel at home with us and benefit from the trauma-based and restorative practices we use to address behavioral challenges. 

After our first year of implementation of restorative practices, we all but eliminated out-of-school suspensions. Our school’s out-of-school suspension rates dropped from 87 students to 6 students in the following year. 

We are accepting of all our kids, with no exceptions. We understand that the students we serve need as much time in the school building as possible, primarily when we’re focusing on their emotional well-being.

Our teachers are invested in students’ mental health. We check in with kids when we notice a change – because our educators know our kids very well – and we make sure we’re helping kids develop strong coping and conflict resolution strategies. 

Any students who don’t have a coat, know they can go to a room in the building where they can select one that’s been donated and make it theirs, no problem. We gave students noise-canceling headphones for use at home, to improve chances kids seeking quiet could use the devices to improve concentration.  

When kids’ basic needs are met, learning is a lot easier. If we see students on the margins, we change our schedules to center our work on academic and social/emotional interventions to ensure those students thrive.

As a principal fellow, I’ve helped lead many of the school culture changes reflected in improvements to the student, teacher, and parent satisfaction at STRIVE Prep – Montbello. Our entire team has worked hard to set and meet ambitious goals.  

In my 21 years as an educator, with much of my career in Chicago Public Schools, I can say that what we’ve created here is extraordinary.  Many schools claim they believe in restorative practices, but it happens at STRIVE Prep – Montbello.  If a kid does something wrong, our first instinct is ‘let’s talk to the kid and figure out what’s going on.’  

There is a reason charter schools came into existence here and around the country.  I’ve seen how we can be flexible to meet specific community needs, how students benefit from the individualized attention, high expectations, and a firm commitment to success.  

Much of the excitement around Reimagining Montbello has focused on bringing back traditions in athletics at the high school level. The Board of Education has delayed having conversations about middle school education.  They have neglected the role our school, in particular, can play in providing a high-quality feeder option. This is confusing to parents and our school community, who see what we offer as part of the solution.  

At STRIVE Prep, we say every child deserves a high-quality education right where they live. We want to be a neighborhood middle school option for Montbello students. We don’t want to be exiled, moved off campus, or tucked away.  

Please give us a seat at the table as the community reimagines education in Montbello.

Phil J. Gordon
Phil J. Gordon is a Principal Fellow at STRIVE Prep Montbello Middle School. Previously, he held positions in Chicago Public Schools, St. Louis Public Schools, and Baltimore Public Schools, including teacher, principal, humanities department head, and director of operations. Mr. Gordon is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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