Year of Innovation – A Message from Principal Burnham

As the Principal at Portola Middle School, each new school year brings equal doses of pride, excitement, hope and determination. The one word that is at the forefront of my mind this year is innovation. Due to the hard work of our students, families and community we have successfully laid a foundation that can support innovation in ways we have not been able to do in the past. We have made steady, positive change over the years and these new programs have the potential to accelerate our growth and provide opportunities to better meet the needs of all our students. For those of you who don’t already know, we broke ground on the new Portola building this summer and anticipate the new facility will be ready during the 2015/2016 school year. As we “break-ground” on innovative forms of pedagogy this year, I am looking to an even brighter future when we take what we’ve learned into our new facility and continue to build on the groundswell that is well underway.

Here are some highlights of the innovative programs happening at Portola:

We had our first Universal Design for Learning (UDL) training this August with the WCCUSD Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. AnnMarie Baines. UDL provides educators with a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs ( Dr. Baines is a professor at San Francisco State University and is at the forefront of the UDL movement in the Bay Area. Portola teaching faculty, along with a graduate tutor, counselor, two administrators and two board members attended the first of several daylong sessions. There is excitement in the air with this new approach at Portola. Our aim is to make school interesting and challenging for all of our students by accommodating each student’s needs for  multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement.

In addition to leading the initial UDL trainings, as the Scholar-in-Residence at Portola, Dr. Baines will also be supporting us in ongoing professional development activities. She will be observing classes as they implement UDL and coaching teachers on a regular basis. Throughout the year, she will be available for individual consultations, and develop and lead trainings to support faculty and staff in providing the best learning environment for all of our students.

We are now entering our third year of Dual Immersion Spanish language instruction at Portola. This is the continuation of a program started at Washington Elementary in Richmond where students are given instruction in both English and Spanish starting in kindergarten. At Portola, these students take Advanced Spanish as well as a History class taught in Spanish. We just sent our first graduating class to El Cerrito High school to continue their learning. If students pass the AP Spanish test they will receive the highly regarded California State Seal of Biliteracy on their diploma. The goal of the DI program is to create biliterate, global citizens who will be able to navigate and participate in our ever-growing global economy. If there are students who did not participate in the DI program at Washington Elementary but speak, read and write Spanish at a 7th grade skill level we allow them to test into the DI program.

The gains we have made at Portola are due to many factors, one of which is community involvement.  If you would like to donate or become involved in the PTSA at Portola, please visit  If you would like to participate in another innovative program at Portola that connects community members with students, please consider becoming a Writer Coach.  More information about that program can be found at If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact the PTSA at, or GoPortola* at

Update: You can view Dr. AnnMarie Baines’ presentation slides here for an overview of how the Scholar In Residence Program (SIR) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) are being leveraged in our schools.
*GoPortola is a parent group providing advocacy for programs and resources for Portola, as well as a source of information about Portola Middle School’s parent community, facilities, performance, and features.

Dr. AnnMarie Baines

Dr. AnnMarie Baines

California State Seal of Biliteracy

California State Seal of Biliteracy

About Korematsu PTSA News

El Cerrito's Korematsu Middle School PTSA News Site.
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