Claire Mahler thought she’d blown it.

One student had squirmed in her seat. Others hadn’t grasped some of themore challenging concepts. Asked how she thought the sample lesson hadgone, Mahler was honest: Parts had worked; others hadn’t.

The next day, she got a call offering her the job.

Mahler’s experience is a familiar one at Cornerstone Academy PreparatorySchool. The sample lesson is a sort of audition required of every prospectiveteacher. They are given a topic, introduced to a group of students they’venever met, and invited to teach, while several of the school leaders look on.

But it’s what happens afterward that matters most. “There is no such thing asa perfect lesson,” says Shara Hegde, the school’s founder and CEO. And soHegde, who was joined in the back of Mahler’s classroom by the principal andacademic director, wasn’t looking for perfection. Instead, she was eager to seehow Mahler reflected on the lesson. Was she able to pick out the ways inwhich the lesson could be improved? Was she open to others’ suggestions?

These questions matter at Cornerstone, where every teacher and leader(including the principal and CEO), meets weekly with a coach. Mahlerdescribes the content of these meetings as “What’s going on and how can weimprove it?”

Every Wednesday, students leave the school after lunch and teachers stayuntil 4 or 5 p.m. During this time, they co-plan lessons, meet with their coach,and check in about the school’s progress toward it’s ambitious academicgoals.  

“There’s this pervasive notion [elsewhere] that when you finish your student teaching, you’re fully baked and ready to go,” says Hegde. This notion “didn’t sit well” with her, so she founded Cornerstone in 2010 as a place committed to perpetual learning, for adults as well as students. Her rationale is simple: “If you’re looking for a school that’s really going to serve your kids well, look for one that really supports their teachers well.”

This assertion is borne out by the Cornerstone’s results. The school is increasingly attracting middle-and upper-income families, but it remains focused on low-income and minority students. Close to three quarters of the students are classified as low-income. More than half speak a language other than English at home—Spanish and Vietnamese in equal measure—and teachers are ever-conscious of using approaches that will benefit English learners.

For these students (and for all students), Cornerstone is among the top-performing schools in the region. Last year, scores for low-income Latino students in English were higher than all but two elementary schools in the Bay Area.

In that same year, Cornerstone received 240 applications for 60 available seats.

In Fall 2015, Cornerstone Academy launched a teacher residency program. Prospective teachers will earn their credential while student-teaching full time at the school. The program is being run in cooperation with Alpha Public Schools and the REACH Institute. We hope to bring you more on this innovative new program in the coming year.

**** Data for 2014-15. From California Department of Education (CDE) downloadable research
files for 2014-15 at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/dd/.