An Interview with Verde Elementary Prinicipal Eric Acosta-Verprauskus

YES Executive Director Eric Aaholm recently interviewed Verde Principal Eric Acosta-Verprauskus about his service path, work in North Richmond, and YES's impact within the school.

In its role as the lead agency for the North Richmond Network, YES was committed to making sure the Verde community got the principal they deserved, and was instrumental in working with school district leadership to participate in the interviews that ultimately led to Principal A-V’s hire.

What inspired you to become a teacher and a principal?
I was drawn toward teaching because it is a way to serve people directly with no middle man. Public service has been my passion since I was a young adult. Before committing to education, I had tried a few different types of public service such as international service with refugees in Zambia, government service at a county economic development division in Northern California, and youth services at a group home in Pennsylvania. Over and over, I was frustrated at working for slow moving, inefficient organizations failing to produce real transformative results.

I moved into a classroom teacher role so I could be in charge of my own service product’s destiny. Nothing would be between students, who I was desperate to serve, and outcomes. Upon leading a classroom, I realized the joy of guiding a group of kids to reach challenging academic goals while encouraging exuberance along the way. I began to see an excellent primary education as an essential stepping stone in my students’ lives. Unfortunately, I also became privy to the deep inequities existent in our current public education scheme. It quickly sunk in that ensuring a high quality education for every child to be my life’s work. As my years in the classroom went by, I wanted to take my passion to lead students to joyful achievement to the school wide strata. I wanted to lead a team of adults to achieve awesome results for students and broaden my impact to hundreds of students daily.

Tell us about your career in education and your path to becoming the principal at Verde Elementary.
I started teaching 5th grade at Lincoln Elementary in 2008. I taught at Lincoln for five years. Then, I served as Vice Principal at Lovonya DeJean Middle School for one year. After, I gained the principalship at Verde Elementary. I’m currently serving in my third year at Verde and ninth year in WCCUSD.

Why Verde? What stood out that made you want to exercise your leadership in a school that had been fraught with challenges over so many years?
I wanted to lead a school in Richmond near where I began my teaching career. I really fell in love with this place and the terrific families and educators here. It was a real honor when WCCUSD offered me the principalship of Verde. I considered it my dream job. It is a beautiful small community school with tremendous potential and very real challenges. However, the challenges Verde faced over the years did not worry me. I believe great leaders (and that includes all staff, students, and community) make great schools. I knew so much greatness already existed at Verde, it was my job to organize and leverage it.

What were conditions like when you arrived? What have you and the people on your team/supports been able to do to change the narrative at the school? 
I found a deeply committed staff passionate about serving our students when I began at Verde. In fact, I found the narrative that existed about Verde was all wrong. This sounds like double speak but, truly, I found the students to be incredibly sweet, the families to be dedicated to the success of the school, a network of committed community partners, and the staff to be absolutely heroic in their effort to serve the students. 

We’ve simply done a few things over the past years to create the narrative that our school truly deserves. We believe that a school that operates with a compassionate frame, holds high behavioral and academic expectations for students, and is deeply connected with the community it serves can be transformative for all stakeholders involved. 

We are passionate about strategic action so we drive toward a cohesive school vision and mission that all stakeholders are committed to. We are passionate about community involvement so we throw open the gates to our school and encourage families to get involved on campus. We are passionate about student achievement so we inspect achievement data throughout the year, make plans of action, and develop staff skills and knowledge to maximize impact. We are passionate about creating a safe, respectful, and responsible school climate/culture so we implement systems focusing on positive behavior intervention and supports for our students. Our narrative now brims with positivity and revolves around reflection and growth. Some specific achievements can be seen in growth in our state test results in literacy, a dramatic reduction in out of school suspensions, and an achievement of full service community school status.

How have YES and the North Richmond Network (NRN) supported your leadership?
Representatives from YES and NRN have been an integral support over the years. Interestingly enough, they had representatives in the interview room with WCCUSD personnel when I interviewed for the position. They have played a critical role in keeping Verde’s work grounded in serving the North Richmond community and have helped us acquire resources vital to our continued success such as a vice principal and an unconditional education coach.

What inspires you to come to school every day?
Membership in a high functioning school provides me a feeling of utter exhilaration. I adore our students and the innocence and love they bring to our school daily. My staff is full of heroes. I feel fortunate to guide a group of leaders of social change every day. The Verde community continues to grow and blossom. We have reached a tipping point where leadership from staff, students, and community members now leads our revolution with a self-sustaining energy. To be here is to be part of a movement tempered in all the right things – social justice, equity, and empathetic education.

 What's your vision for Verde and North Richmond students?
Our vision of Verde is that we are a professional learning community of collaborative thinkers focused on high achievement that embraces the whole child so that students grow academically and socially in a safe and positive environment to become college graduates, leaders, and lifelong learners.