After 12 years in corporate America working for mega-retailers Walmart, Target and TJ Maxx, Kevin Beiser returned to his passion: education. The first member of his family to graduate from high school and go to college, now he is helping kids in his local community find their own opportunities through education.
Today, he is an award-winning educator leading reform in underperforming schools through his work as a math teacher at Granger Junior High School and his seat on the San Diego Unified School Board.
Return to the classroom
When Beiser first started college, he was drawn to the education program. A looming recession and declining jobs in education in the early 1990s forced him to rethink his original plan, and he switched his major to management. Then after more than a decade in big business, he returned to school to pursue his ultimate dream of becoming a teacher. “I think you get a lot more out of helping kids learn and succeed than any reward you could get in a corporate environment,” asserts Beiser, Master of Arts in Education/Secondary Teacher Education (MAEd/TED-S) ’05. “Regardless of whether you are in private industry or in education, it is important to share things you know with people around you so you can improve yourself.”
Embracing a new challenge
After stints teaching at juvenile hall and a charter school, Beiser accepted a math teacher position at Granger Junior High School in National City outside of San Diego. “[Granger] was the worst school in the Sweetwater Union High School District,” explains Beiser. The school had a low Academic Performance Index (API) score, which is an indicator of the academic performance of schools in California. “We used to send our students to high school and they would drop out,” he adds.
Beiser knew his school could do better, and he began researching curriculum strategies and teaching models from around the country. “We changed our curriculum to make sure we gave students more repetition, more practice, more literacy and writing,” he explains. “We tried different strategies to help our students learn.”
These involved adopting new computer programs with proven track records in enhancing education, mandatory after-school tutoring for students who weren’t making the grade and cutting administrative costs so more money was available to support learning.
In the five years Beiser has been at Granger Junior High School, these efforts have paid off. “It’s a turnaround school,” he says, proudly. Granger’s API score has increased from 604 to 795. It has been named a National School to Watch and a State School to Watch by the National Forum, which means it is recognized as a model of what a school can do to improve learning. “The high school we feed into now has an 85 percent graduation rate,” adds Beiser. “That is phenomenal for our neighborhood.”
“A lot of the reforms [we made] were pushed and driven by our principal and staff,” emphasizes Beiser. “We all want to do better and help kids. That’s why we got into education—it is that passion and drive to try to make a difference.” The children aren’t the only ones benefitting from these changes—so is the National City community, an area historically plagued with a high crime rate. “Now these kids have hope and feel connected to the school, clubs and activities. Now they think they can have a brighter future,” says Beiser. “And police say gang activity has dropped off as Granger has become more successful.”
A greater reach
Beiser’s corporate experience has helped prepare him for a leadership role at Granger, as well as in his greater school district. “In the private sector, you collaborate to achieve common goals. At school, it’s about teachers working together,” he says. His experience with budgets and finance has helped him learn to spend money efficiently, a skill he finds invaluable at Granger and in his new role as a member of the San Diego Unified School Board. In 2010, he beat a two-term incumbent to gain a seat.
Beiser has a great challenge ahead as he continues to work to reform local schools with limited funding. “We have to try to balance the budget and protect the quality of education at the same time,” he says.
“If we want a well-educated workforce that can get jobs, be productive, provide for their families and pay into the tax base, then we need a good education system now.”
|Earning high marks
as an educator
In his five years as an educator, Kevin Beiser has amassed an impressive array of awards honoring his efforts. In 2008, he was named San Diego Math Teacher of the Year by the Greater San Diego Math Council. He was recognized with the Distinguished Service Award by the Gifted and Talented Education program, too.
At Granger Junior High School, students also voted Beiser Most Caring Teacher of the Year and Most Inspirational Teacher of the Year.