Highland Middle School Principal Anissa Bereano was named this year’s Washington State Middle Level Principal of the Year by a panel of principals representing the Association of Washington Middle Level Principals, a component of the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP). She was one of nine nominees from across the state.

Bereano has been principal at Highland since 2008. Highland is a Title I school in the Bellevue School District that supports a racially and economically diverse student population that reflects the community.

As principal, Bereano has worked with staff to build a culture of universal achievement, resulting in significant academic gains for students including narrowing – and in some cases closing – the achievement gap for Highland’s students of color.

In addition to the academic gains, the school has been able to eliminate detentions and has seen a 71 percent reduction in suspensions.

“There was no quick fix for Highland’s improvement, but through shared leadership, building capacity, and a collective vision, we have been able to make great strides,” Bereano said. “While we have not yet achieved our ultimate goal, the Highland staff knows it’s possible and we are more committed than ever.”

When she arrived at Highland, Bereano was the third principal in three years, the school was in its first year of AYP sanctions, and staff morale and community pride in the school were low. At the time, 56 percent of the students passed the math MSP and 67 percent passed in reading.

On the 2014 MSP, the passage rate for math was 70 percent and reading was 82 percent. Eighth grade Hispanic students were the highest performing sub-group on the reading MSP with a 92 percent passage rate.

In addition, Highland’s organizational health data is strong because of high staff interdependence, collegiality and shared leadership.

The school’s turning point was achieved when Bereano led a school-wide implementation of AVID strategies with an emphasis on reading strategies in all subject areas. AVID uses research-based strategies to increase access to rigorous curriculum for all students. Together with the staff, a shared vision, now known as “Highland’s Ultimate Goal” was developed: “Every student, without exception and without excuse, will develop their character and become proficient or advanced in reading, writing, and math.”

To sustain this vison school-wide, Bereano and her staff implemented authentic Professional Learning Communities to maintain quality instruction using AVID strategies. Around the same time, Highland collaborated with Jubilee Reach, a local nonprofit, to form a community partnership that has ultimately led to a comprehensive program including clubs, sports, mentoring, and academic support that happen both during and after school.

“She is a phenomenal instructional leader who is innovative, collaborative, and committed,” Dr. Patty Siegwarth, Executive Director of Bellevue Schools, said about Bereano. “Her interpersonal skills are excellent. She communicates her genuine care for students and adults, while maintaining high expectations for behavior and performance.”

Highland Middle School was named a School of Distinction in 2014, and AVID School of Distinction in 2013 and 2014, and won and Academic Achievement Award in 2010 for overall excellence and again in 2012 for science.

Bereano has worked as an educator in the Bellevue School District for 21 years. She achieved her National Board Certification in 2002. Her first job in administration was July 2004, when she was the assistant principal at Tyee Middle School. Bereano moved to Eastgate Elementary in 2005 before taking the reins at Highland Middle School in 2008.

Bereano graduated from the University of Washington in 1992 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science. She earned her Master’s Degree in Human Development in 2001 from Pacific Oaks College and her administrative certification from the University of Washington in 2004.

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