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Mayra Cruz, Oyster-Adams Bilingual School, Washington, DC

Mayra Cruz Oyster Adams DC BellLeading with purpose is how Ms. Mayra Cruz approaches her position as principal at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School. Described by colleagues as dynamic, Principal Cruz is one of the youngest principals in the District, having taken on the role at the age of 26. Over the last seven years as principal, she has cultivated a shared vision that all students can achieve at high levels through a bilingual approach; and that closing the achievement gap is possible if the whole school community works toward that common vision.

Principal Cruz understood from personal experience how a high-quality bilingual education can transform an entire family. A daughter of immigrants and a younger sister of Dreamers, Principal Cruz grew up in what she describes as a loving but underfunded school and as an English language learner who qualified for free and reduced lunch. She sees her story in the students who attend Oyster-Adams and the communities she serves. This personal connection to has strengthened her resolve to help students “see difference as a way to build a bridge, not a wall.”

Oyster-Adams Bilingual School is one of the oldest bilingual schools in the nation. At the heart of Principal Cruz’s vision for Oyster-Adams is the idea that a school can take pride in and thrive under bilingualism. She instills in students that school is a place to “be bold, brave, and bilingual.” Bilingualism is a mechanism that helps students have a greater sense of empathy for those who are different or who are faced with inequity. Though Oyster-Adams’ bilingual program had been in place for years, Principal Cruz’s vision required new approaches. She implemented teams to ensure collaborative decision-making and created a staffing structure to support innovation and supplemental support. She created embedded curriculum development institutes and focused efforts on tackling obstacles to closing the achievement gap. She consulted with the school community and outside experts to continuously improve.

Oyster-Adams’ bilingual approach is a successful strategy for helping narrow the achievement gap for all students, including Black, Latino/Latinx, English language learners, at-risk students, and students with disabilities. Under Principal Cruz’s leadership, the school transitioned both pre-kinder and kindergarten programs to full Spanish immersion. All teachers were trained in Dual Language best practices. The school integrates students with Individualized Education Programs into mainstream classrooms. In addition, Oyster-Adams extended an opportunity for 8th grade students to take the Advanced Placement exam and expanded Chinese language immersion to lower grades.

One of the tenets of Principal Cruz’s leadership is teacher development. With a high priority on rigor and complex texts and collaborative tasks to push students to higher levels, she ensures teachers have the instructional support they need. She staffed the school with educators who directly reflect the student body, including several first-generation Americans. The school maintains two full-time instructional coaches to provide teachers the support they need. Principal Cruz also works closely with the teachers’ union building representative to ensure that all voices are heard and that the partnership between school leadership and teachers remains positive.

Principal Cruz significantly impacted the social-emotional learning for staff, students, and families. In addition to adopting social-emotional learning programs, she invested in teacher and family wellness and mental health. She embedded staff wellness into meetings and included self-care insights for parents in weekly communications. True to her vision, she engages staff and families in anti-racism work. She makes time during faculty meetings for processing and reflection during the current racial inequity protests. She also spearheaded an Oyster-Adams Relief Fund to support families struggling as a result of COVID-19 economic turmoil.

As she notes, Principal Cruz may be the one that sets the vision, but she works side-by-side with a leadership team of powerful and talented Assistant Principals, Instructional Coaches, a Director of Strategy and Logistics, and a Dean of Students to bring systems to life. All decisions are grounded in data, but the key questions are, “what is best and most equitable for our kids? And what is the most mission-aligned decision?” These core questions stemmed from the visioning process she led with the school community to weave purpose into the fabric of the school.


Read a transcript HERE.
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