Edna Barakat, French Teacher
By Sarah Liu
Edna Barakat was born in Louisiana in a Francophone culture. She studied French at San Jose State University and graduated with an M.A. in French. She also studied at L’Universite d’Aix-en-Provence in Southern France , and wants to pursue a Ph.D sometime in the future. Prior to teaching at Lowell, she tutored students privately around the United States. This is her first official classroom teaching job. In her free time, she enjoys climbing mountains and hiking with her husband. This past summer, she went with her husband to Ireland and climbed Diamond Hill.
What’s your first impression of Lowell?
I think it’s a dynamic school, the students are very eager to learn. It has a very good reputation. The ambiance is nice and the students seem to get along well. They respect each other.
What’s the biggest challenge and reward of being a teacher?
I think the biggest challenge is to reach the students who have difficulty learning. And the biggest reward is to see their eyes — there’s a glitter in their eyes — when they understand something. It’s very rewarding. There’s always a challenge to reach a student that’s not understanding in class. That’s your goal — to reach the student that doesn’t understand.
In your own words, describe your teaching style.
Not formal and not relaxed. Somewhere in between. I don’t want to be too strict, I don’t want to be too casual, I want to be open enough so that students feel like they can approach me and ask questions. But I like structure so that my class can learn. Structure and respect. Teachers aren’t here to intimidate students, we’re here to encourage you to find your passion and learn.
What is your favorite thing about the French language?
I love everything about the French language. I like phonetics; I like French literature. Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that studies sound of human speech. There are symbols that represent sounds — the IPA (International Phonetics Alphabet). I’ve always had lots of roots in the French language — my grandmother and extended family spoke French, and I was raised in a French-speaking household.
If you weren’t a teacher, what career would you pursue?
A diplomat. An ambassador for embassies. You apply, they send you an email, you start as a counselor and work your way up in steps — like in teaching — the ultimate is an ambassador. I have two nationalities, so I’d probably work for the French embassy. I might be too old though!
What inspires you?
Learning inspires me, helping others. Helping teach, helping tutor. Touching the students and motivating them to learn. That inspires me. And nature inspires me.
Anthony Smith, Dean
By Lee Wilcox
Dean Anthony Smith has laboring in education for over 20 years, working from every level of the process: as a teacher, counselor, and dean. Though he originally wanted to be a lawyer, he pursued education because he realized his passion was helping those who couldn’t help themselves. Outside of school, he enjoys golf, swimming, and travel. He hopes to teach English outside the U.S. after he retires.
Could you describe your previous work experience?
I’ve been an elementary school instructor, a dean, a counselor, and an at-risk youth counselor with troubled individuals who need to come out through various at-risk facilities.
How long were you working at those jobs for?
I’ve been an educator for a little over 20 years, working from all perspectives.
What would you say are the challenges and rewards of being a teacher, counselor, and dean?
[As a] teacher, you’re more hands-on, you’re afforded the opportunity to mold, correct, and then if there’s a mistake, you can make that correction to allow the students to see their academic concerns, and then be hands-on with them to show how it works, and you can extend more patience to actually perfect teaching those skills. As a counselor, you can show students that even if various instructors vary in their approach, their tone, or their mannerisms, you can still gain something from them so that you’re learning different aspects that can improve you as you move forward, whether it be elementary, middle, or high school. As a dean, you want to remove the disciplinary aspect, and teach students about responsibilities and values. Yes, discipline is a responsibility, and directions and rules are essential, but if you can educate them on the safety aspects of following these, then they become more attentive to not look at the [discipline] as something that is penalized but a learning experience.
What were your favorite subjects in high school?
Oh! Math and English, loved both, loved being stressed about finding out about numbers and I loved the vocabulary, to be articulate, to be able to spell, to learn the definition of various words…it’s exceptional.
What’s your impression of Lowell so far?
It’s very diverse and very demanding, in a positive sense. There’s a drive and a direction to really want to excel, and that to me is important because in life you can’t be passive if you really want to attain something. You have to follow your beliefs and your direction.
What has been your most memorable moment as an educator?
I had a student who was at one point in special ed — and this will stick to me until my career ends — she didn’t want to stay in special ed, but her case manager felt it was best for her to stay in special ed to get her “diploma.” She came to me and was like, “Mr. Smith, I don’t want to stay in these classes, they’re too easy.” I said, “Are you serious?” and she said, “Yes.” So I moved her classes gradually from special ed to general ed. She didn’t get the A’s she had expected, she had a couple of B’s and C’s, but she excelled. She eventually graduated from high school, went on to college, got her bachelor’s, and I was there to watch her obtain a bachelor’s degree from college when everybody else wanted her hopefully just to get a certificate, not a diploma from high school, and that’s huge. That was major to me and that sticks with me to this day.
What made you decide to go into education? Was it in search of moments like that?
I initially wanted to be a lawyer, but then I realized helping was the premise [of education], not the actual profession, but extending help to others who otherwise couldn’t help themselves. Once I saw that I was given that opportunity to have that skill, it was a no-brainer to continue that path.
What are your passions outside of your job?
I love golf, I love swimming, and I love to travel.
Where have you traveled to?
I’ve been to Portugal, China, Oaxaca, México, and Nicaragua.
Did you have any educational experiences outside of the United States or did you teach elsewhere?
No, I mean that’s something that [I want] to do when I retire: it’s to help people learn English and other scenarios, so that’s something that will be the next phase of my life.
Kathleen West, Biology Teacher
By Joy Cheng
Biology teacher Kathleen West developed a love for science at a young age. Having graduated from Claremont McKenna College as an organismal biology major, she spent several years working at the Chicago Botanical Garden. After ending up in San Francisco by chance and quitting an advertising job, West decided to pursue the teaching career she had always dreamt of as a child. This is her first official year as a teacher at Lowell after being a student teacher for the science department.
What led you to teaching?
I generally had great teachers in high school but really great biology teachers, who had both worked in a lab before. One did biotech and one did pharmaceuticals before retiring and taking up teaching as a second career. [The classes] were very little about just taking notes and quizzes. It was much more, well, what are you interested in? You see something in the world and you don’t understand it, what do you do to help figure that out, how can you use science to help you figure that out? So I had always known that I wanted to get some experience working before coming back to teach, but I always knew I wanted to teach at some point.
What are the pros and cons of teaching?
It’s a rough schedule, teaching. You’re in early, you stay late. It’s not like you’re in here at 7:50 a.m. and you’re out of here at 3:30 p.m. You take a lot of stuff home with you, both physical paperwork and a lot of the things that happen in the classroom. Like when you watch a student have a bad day that goes home with you just as much as it does with them. On the other side, you get the great stuff too, like the relationships you build with the students. They really lift you up and make you happy. It’s the same with the people you work with too. Particularly in the science department, we have a really close-knit team. So one of the joys I have of teaching is getting to work with people who are just as passionate as I am about what they’re doing. It’s infectious and it’s really great.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I probably lean, in fancy educational terms, kind of Deweyan. I think that students come in with a lot of strengths. My job as a teacher is to provide them with a platform to build upon those, to enhance them, to celebrate what comes into the classroom as is. It is less about me filling you with knowledge; I’d rather you leave with the skills that you need to succeed in whatever path you choose. I think some of that comes from my own sort of crooked way of getting here. I ended up in a sales job with no sales background because I’d had teachers in high school and then a liberal arts education that allowed me to be like, “Look, these are transferable skills. I can use Excel, I can talk to people, I can do that.” Did I need to know what a mitochondria did? No. But was it helpful to have other information? For sure.
What has been your impression of Lowell so far?
Lowell reminds me so much of my own high school. I went to a public school but also a pretty prestigious one, nationally ranked when I was there. It was very competitive, everyone was always trying to be the best they could be. Everything was honors and AP. I was definitely a nerd in high school, I did marching band and pep band. I was in a bunch of English clubs and science clubs. I think I see a lot of that in students here. People really hone in on something that they’re interested in. There’s a little less of this widespread “I’ll try to do 80 things.” I think a Lowell kid for the most part yes, they want to everything that they can, but they want to do it really well.
What do you enjoy doing outside of teaching?
A lot of what I like to do now I liked to do in high school. I really liked watching sports and had a lot of friends that played sports, although I wasn’t particularly athletic. So that’s been carried forward, I still enjoy watching others play. I still really enjoy music. I play a lot less of my own but I love the theater. The San Francisco Symphony is amazing, one of my favorites. I had a lot of fun going to see some of my students in the play last year here at Lowell, like seeing Sweeney Todd and waving like, “Hey, I see you!” It’s nice because as a teacher, you have the opportunity to involve yourself in things when students need your help. If you want to sponsor a club and someone needs you, it’s there for you to do.
Joe Ryan Dominguez, Assistant Principal
By Sophia Shen
Joe Dominguez is a new assistant principal and the head of pupil services at Lowell. He values teamwork and wants to help foster more connections between students and staff so everyone’s input can be heard. He’s new to California and enjoys the diverse and accepting atmosphere. You can recognize him by his colorful bow ties, which he keeps in a collection in his office.
What was your previous job before you applied to work at Lowell?
I was an assistant principal for academics at Mountain Pointe High School in Arizona. That job oversees a lot of the same things I oversee here.
What are your responsibilities as an assistant principal? Which of the titles do you think suits you better?
There are four assistant principals at a school this size and we each oversee a different area. Mine is pupil services, which means I oversee the counseling department, the wellness center, and the VICCI center. Right now, at this time, it’s all scheduling: making sure students are in the correct classes and making sure the master schedule was built correctly so that we can accommodate. We’re noticing there are some issues with the schedule so that’s why a lot of schedules are being changed, unfortunately, which I hate doing at this time of the year. We’re just fixing some errors. We have a larger enrollment than we’re used to having, so we’re also trying to accomodate teacher class sizes because we don’t want to overwhelm students in the classrooms or their teachers.
What changes would you like to make or what goals would you like to accomplish for Lowell?
I like creating collaboration when we’re building a master schedule because often times you hear, “I don’t really like my schedule this year.” Teachers are also thinking, “Why are my class sizes so big?” I think those are conversations that should happen early before students have their schedule. Right now, it’s difficult because I’m working with the schedule that was already built. I’m trying to make it work wherever I can, but I think there’s some discomfort around campus and I’m trying to alleviate some of those stresses. But for the future and for future Arenas and for future schedule building, having earlier conversations, bringing more people in, and just having more collaborative time so that hopefully when we get to the fall there’s less errors, less disruptions to the students’ schedules and a lot of schedule changes that aren’t necessary.
What do you like most about San Francisco so far?
I love the weather. I came from Phoenix, which has 117 degree weather, it’s hot, so that’s been a big plus. I love the coldness here. I also like the inclusive atmosphere. I feel like there’s a home for everybody here in San Francisco as far as just feeling accepted. That’s not necessarily the climate in Phoenix all the time.
Do you feel intimidated by the large student body?
Fortunately, that’s what I did have experience with. My previous school was the same size and so I think that’s one of the experiences that led me to getting the position because I have experience with large schools.
What have you done to try to get to know people so far? Any strategies?
Primarily I got to know my counseling team. Since I oversee them, my first priority was getting to know them, what their passions are and how they really have influence on students. I know they see students every single day so I wanted to make sure my relationship with the counselors was solid and I think I’m doing a pretty good job there. I’m still waiting to get to know more students, so anytime you reach out to me or any other students reach out to me, I’m all about it because it’s the only way I can. I’m looking forward to getting into more classrooms so students can see me more often and so teachers know I’m about helping them. It’s still a work in progress.
What’s your current impression of the school?
I love it. I have never seen such a large group of students that are so ambitious, hardworking, and you know what you want for yourselves and you speak up and advocate for it. I think that’s great. That’s not the same at every school. Everyone is incredibly friendly, the teachers are so kind and welcoming.
Did you hear any intimidating rumors about Lowell before starting here? Do you think they’re true?
I would not say intimidating, but I would say one of the rumors I want to help with once I see for myself are the levels of anxiety students have. That ambition I was just talking about has also led to a lot of self induced stress, so I want to know if there’s anything as an institution that we can do to alleviate that because I know you guys have high expectations for yourselves, just like we do, but I think there are ways we can help with that and we can be a little more strategic about how we roll out assignments and course load and rigor. We still want to keep the bar high but just collaborate more to make sure you’re not overdoing it.
What are you most excited about for this school year and those to come?
For this school year, just learning what it’s like to be a part of Lowell, to be a Cardinal. Even though I have experience at other campuses and districts, I can’t pretend to come in here like “I know everything,” so just learning the Lowell way is my goal for this year — learning the people — because once you know the people and the Lowell way, then we can start improving on things that need to get done.
I’ll say that the number one resource that I had in learning about Lowell when I was preparing for my interviews was The Lowell. I went onto the website and I read as many articles as I could. I know all about Arena because of an article I read in The Lowell. I learned about Ms. Swett and her priorities for this year because of those articles, so keep up the good work, because it’s very important. It taught me, someone who knew very little about the school, everything I needed to know. And for any students that are reading [this], feel free to stop in, my door’s open, just to say hi because, like I said, I want to get to know students more, too.
Karen Franklin, English Teacher
By Wilson Zhu
English teacher Karen Franklin was born and raised in the suburbs of Monterey Park, Los Angeles. She attended the University of California Los Angeles where she earned an B.A. in the fine arts and then San Francisco State University where she earned an M.A. in creative writing. Before coming to Lowell, Franklin taught one year at Mission High School and one year at the San Francisco School of The Arts. Outside of teaching English, she enjoys writing and is currently working on an anthology of short stories.
What led you to become a teacher?
One thing I’m not good at is marketing myself. I do a ton of writing but then I just put it in a closet. A friend who is a teacher suggested that I start to earn a living and become a substitute teacher. The substitute teaching was really challenging because I didn’t know anything [about being a teacher]. Then I discovered how interesting education is, how people learn, how to teach, how individual and incredibly creative it is. I’m a creative person, and teaching is a huge creative outlet for me because I can incorporate art and theater into my lessons. I incorporate a million different things into my teaching.
What made you choose to teach at Lowell?
I got a really lucky break. I interviewed with Ms. Swett and Ms. Santiago, and a couple of days later I was invited to teach here. I was so happy. I did not expect to teach here because I was geared to teach at a school that had more lower-performing students. I was focused on teaching at a community where different ethnic, social and economic backgrounds are respected and supported. I brought those ideas and activities to my classroom in order to get people to support one another.
What’s your impression of Lowell so far?
It’s great. Everybody is really nice, really supportive. Students are interesting and fun. The diversity is a little off. I’d like to see more students of color here and particularly African Americans students, but I think the school is trying to address that and trying to make those kinds of changes.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I think it is fun but serious. Light but a little strict. I feel like if I have high expectations, that my students will rise to meet those expectations. I also want students to increase their strengths in reading and writing. My goal is to have my students feel that they are better at writing or reading than when they started the semester.
What are the rewards of teaching?
The biggest reward is connecting with students by making that one-on-one connection and finding out about them. There is a lot of baggage kids have outside of school that you don’t know about until you take the time to get to know them and figure out what they’re going through.
What’s your most memorable moment as a teacher?
I had a student who was doing great the first semester but the second semester he really started falling off. I took the time to find out what was going on, and it turned out his mom had passed away a couple years ago. He was living with an older sister and he was just missing [his mom] a lot. At the time, I taught at Mission High and everyone wanted to be on the basketball team, including this kid [but his grades were preventing him from joining the team]. We were able to talk to the coach and helped the student do better in school so the next year he could get on the basketball team.
What are your passions outside of teaching?
Writing. I’m a writer. I write all the time. I keep a journal with me and [journaling] is my favorite thing to do. It’s my therapist, my best friend, my creative outlet. I’ve written plays, screenplays, short stories and [currently] I’m putting together a book of short stories. I also practice Feng Shui in my spare time.