Bright Star Schools

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Nathan Kurisu working with his Valor Academy Middle School Students.

Great teachers are often rightly celebrated for their professional dedication and willingness to put aside their own needs so students can thrive.

This passion for education can produce amazing results but often isn’t sustainable or fair to teachers and their families, with educators working weekends, rushing back to work right after major life events, or even just skipping a morning run to do extra preparation for their class.

Some even get into the profession knowing that those pressures will lead to them leaving the classroom. Julia Guy, a kindergarten teacher at Valor Academy Middle School in North Hills, figured she'd be in the classroom 10 years before she did something different, believing that she’d probably leave once she had a family.

But now Julia thinks she can be a teacher when she becomes a mother because of a $250,000 grant Great Public Schools Now gave to Bright Star Schools, which operates Valor. The grant will provide teachers up to four weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave, a child care subsidy, on-campus fitness classes, and nutrition counseling. 

Bright Star Schools administrators recognize the problems with the “urban martyr” teaching model and want to support their educators by providing benefits and opportunities to help teachers balance their responsibilities in the classroom with their personal lives.

“We’ve really tried to craft our organization to be the type of model where people can make a career out of staying in the classroom,” said Hrag Hamalian, Bright Star’s executive director. “We’re not interested in having teachers come for two years and leave.”

Keeping high performing teachers is especially critical in California, where three out of four school districts reported having a teacher shortage for this school year, according to a recent study by the Learning Policy Institute.

The grant should also help keep Valor sixth grade teacher Nathan Kurisu inspired to help his students for years. Nathan has already had a profound impact at Valor, where 47% of his students met or exceeded the Common Core State Standards on the statewide 6th grade math test, compared to nearly 35% of students in the same grade statewide.

Nathan plans to use the grant to take some days off to accompany his own children on their field trips, and added that the grant would help him and his peers become even better. “When teachers are treated with respect and value, it reflects the way we interact with kids,” he said.  

Keeping great teachers in the classroom is a complicated task, but we at GPSN think Bright Star’s approach makes a lot of sense. Some leading American companies like Etsy and Google have introduced more generous leave policies and other ways to make sure their employees have the right work-life balance, and we’re delighted that teachers are getting the same support.