Principal heralded for KIPP Bridge Academy's success

KIPP Bridge Academy’s Michael Burks is not the quiet type.

Every school day the West Oakland Principal greets every TK through 4th grader with a personal touch.

There are 269 students at the school and Burks knows every one of their names.

"I want my kids waking up wanting to be at school," said Brooks.

It’s all part of the KIPP Bridge Academies mantra. It starts with a sense of belonging coupled with knowledge and growth. But, the 34-year-old Burks believe it must all come showered in joy if you want to build a strong and successful community of learning. 

"As a Black man working with Black and Brown children we talk about an achievement gap.  But there’s also a belief gap. A lot of things in this world are created structurally in ways where we get communicated as we get told," said Burks. "So we start to believe that we can’t, and we have to start with making sure that we believe that we can, and children know that. And feeling joy with what we’re doing is being invested in the work that we are doing."

Burks’ positivity is contagious, and not just the students.

Teacher Brianna Roberts feels it every day.

"He is a nurturer. He is funny. He is smart, and he loves the kids, and you can feel that. He embraces each and every person no matter who they are no matter where they come from with love and peace," said Roberts. "It's an honor to work with him because it doesn't feel like a job it feels like a community a friendship and family."

And that KIPP community is flourishing. The school has far fewer suspensions and better attendance. And their Black and Brown student body that is historically disadvantaged is academically outperforming OUSD and the entire state of California in both math and English language arts.

"This school means to the city of Oakland change. I say that because what we have started here will be able to change how things are done in our community, but here is where you get that fulfillment. If you find that within yourself this is where it starts," said Roberts.

And it all starts at the top with team leader Michael Burks.

The Harvard graduate and father of one could have landed anywhere, but thanks to strong role models in his youth and a desire to teach Burks knew he wanted to pay it forward.

"We've made an intentional decision to put roots here because we see ourselves in this community, "said Burks. "We want our daughter to grow up in a space where she sees people who look like her and people who don't look like her and know that diversity is beautiful and powerful. So our roots are here. This is KIPP Bridge Academy sometimes we say forever Rising."