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Madera Principal Brings Multiple Perspectives as Mother, Teacher, Administrator

Newly appointed principal Alison Makela of Madera Elementary School in El Cerrito had been pursuing an accounting career when she discovered a passion for educational leadership. She talks to Patch about her professional goals and personal likes.

Alison Makela was headed toward a master’s in accounting when she realized that the part of the program that interested her most – organizational development  – would go together nicely with what she was learning from her involvement in her children’s education.

That was when Makela, who was appointed principal of Madera Elementary School June 27, knew she wanted to go into educational leadership.

She also knew she needed to start as a teacher.

“To be good at that (leadership) I needed to understand the nuts and bolts of what goes on in a classroom,” she explained. 

Makela never finished that accounting degree, although she did take away from those studies an advanced business certificate.  She went on to get a multiple subject credential, teach second grade for a year in Novato, and fifth grade at Marin School in Albany for three years.

When it was time to begin her training as an administrator, Makela said, she applied to only one program, the at UC Berkeley. She said the program best matched her own philosophy of looking at issues in depth and from multiple perspectives.  

She completed the rigorous program during the 2009-10 school year while working on special tasks including adult school principal, math coach to  elementary teachers, and strategic plan action team facilitator for the Albany Unified School District.  During summer 2010 she was an administrative intern at Berkeley Technology Academy.  Afterward, she became an instructional specialist at Dover Elementary School in San Pablo.

One thing Makela learned from her own five children is just how varied the school experience can be.

“For one it was super easy and for another it was the most stressful  experience,” she said.

The youngest of Makela’s five children is a high school junior in Berkeley, where Makela lives.

She also notes that her career path has allowed her to work with a range of students, including high achievers and students with academic challenges.

“The breadth of experience allows me to really see things from multiple perspectives,” she said.

In a letter she submitted to the school district in February in pursuit of a principalship and shared with Patch, she wrote, in part, “I am committed to equity and excellence in education – an education that cultivates thinking, creativity and a love for learning rather than simply filling minds with information. To that end, in this (at Dover) and previous positions, I’ve enjoyed forging very positive relationships that allow me to have open, direct conversations about instruction. It’s been incredibly satisfying to identify root causes and implement creative solutions that address those needs with success.”

On a letter of introduction Makela provided to Patch, she writes, "I am a voracious reader, committed to staying current with research and theory, and attend conferences, speakers and/or webinars whenever possible.  For some time, I’ve been hosting gatherings to discuss articles and chapters with others who share my desire to be constantly improving our work.

“In my free time, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, hiking, kayaking and watching my son play soccer.  I’m a regular at SF MOMA and the De Young, summer concerts at Stern Grove and, now that I’ve discovered the delicious fish tacos, at the Off the Grid food trucks on Wednesday nights."

Asked about leading a school that is already high performing, she said Madera has a lot to be proud of.

 “There is a lot of good work happening here that needs to continue," she said, “but that doesn’t mean we’re done. “

Children are complex, she said, and test scores and the resulting , are just one measure of how they are doing. One of her favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

The work ahead, she said, is something that the school community will need to explore together.

“My first job is to listen and get to know people,” she said.

Toward that end, Madera families will have the opportunity to 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, July 13, in the school’s multipurpose room.

Betty Buginas is a teacher in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and a frequent Patch contributor.

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