My experience in education includes 16 years teaching high school social studies, 6 years as a high school Assistant Principal, and I am now in my 5th year as Principal at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz, California. I have always been drawn to public education and see it as part of the larger project that includes protecting our democracy and breaking down economic and social barriers that are embedded in our society and the educational system.

Show Highlights

  • A public school truly free from fees for students and parents
  • Pilot your great ideas for relevant data
  • Develop a faculty mindset regarding rigorous courses
  • Curriculum that pushes depth of learning for all students
  • The internal conversation every Ruckus Maker needs to have
  • How to move through discomfort for more equitable outcomes
  • Why Tracey has used Organize Binder for the past 10 years 

Daniel (00:03): I like to start each podcast episode by wetting your appetite, telling a story that will get you into the mind of my guest. I end each episode with a thought experiment, right? Imagine how you would build your dream school. I'm kind of combining both here because when I talk with today's guest Tracy Runeare, we start with a really amazing imagine if scenario, but for her, it's actually reality. Imagine if you lead a school where the school provided all the resources, and when I say everything, I mean everything. That's where we'll start off in today's conversation. Hey, it's Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these messages from our show's sponsors.

Daniel (01:08): Students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn Today's podcast is brought to you by Teach Fx. It's basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting Welcome to the show, Tracy. Glad you're here. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

Daniel (01:48): Absolutely. I want to start off with the idea of student equity. You mentioned before that sometimes the way you operate in your core values might not match up with, with district policies. One of the things that you learned, or excuse me, shared that I thought was just mind boggling and we have to dig into is kids don't pay for anything you set at school, so let's start there. Do you really mean like they don't pay for anything or just most things?

Tracey (02:23): Well, we really have tried to have them not pay for anything and same with parents. We're a public school and we feel really strongly that you shouldn't have to pay for things in public school. You shouldn't have to pay for a sports uniform. You shouldn't have to pay for science lab materials or art materials. You shouldn't have to pay for parking permits. A lot of the things where there are a lot of fees. There can be fees at schools at public schools that end up going into department budgets and teachers to buy supplies. I really feel like it's the obligation of a public school that's getting funded by taxes to provide that for kids. 'We talk at our back to school night, it's really common to have teachers at different schools list on a whiteboard here are all the things I need and it's Kleenex and it's whiteboard markers or a donation to an office supply store. We just ask that our teachers don't do that, that we'll supply that stuff. There's no need for us to do this to our parents, to ask them for things that we can provide. In some years we can provide more than other years, but it just doesn't feel right.

Daniel (03:43): That's amazing. The faculty response. I'm curious about that and I think maybe the PE department might've been a bit challenged there, probably others as well. Like you said, it's common to list on the whiteboard here's things I need, but how did you navigate the faculty response to help them see that this was the way the school is going to operate?

Tracey (04:07): I'm still not sure that everyone agrees with me, but we have a lot of students who are under resourced. And so if you have a story that's always helpful. Well, this particular student is going to struggle to pay for this or feel like they're standing outnsomehow because they can't pay for something. A good example for kids is there's a lot of clubs and also sports and each club and sport likes to buy their own t-shirt or sweatshirt to represent their club. But they ask for kids to pay for those. Sweatshirts can be $35 for a cool sweatshirt and everyone wants to have it and they belong in the club, but kids need to pay for it. So we have made it so that club, all the club fees go to all the kids, getting sweat shirts.

Tracey (05:00): If they have a fundraiser, it's not just the kids who did the fundraising, who get to buy a sweatshirt, but those funds have to go to everyone buying a sweatshirt. If everyone in the club can't get one, then the club can't buy a sweatshirt. But in terms of PE it's complicated because there's something also about just wearing a PE uniform that was important to the PE teachers. We tried to not even have the school pay for PE uniforms at all, just have students wear clothes that they could exercise in. Just traditionally part of dressing out as a grade for PE. So that was, it was tough. Our compromise was the school had to provide the uniforms. Not that students just wouldn't wear uniforms.

Daniel (05:48): Okay. So you could still wear the uniforms, look the part, but the school would have to pay for them. So we've, we've talked uniforms, sweatshirts, these kinds of things, fees. And I know that your school has done great work around rigorous courses. So what does, what does equity look like there?

Tracey (06:07): Well, we are starting international baccalaureate or IB next year. It will be our first year, which will be a challenge under these circumstances. It's a challenge anyway, just because it's a new way of teaching for our instructors, we're really excited about it. When we started IB, we researched it for two years before we decided as a staff, that that's the direction we wanted to go and we didn't want to have a school within a school. It was a top priority and it was our teachers and our administration that said, well, we wanted to do this, but we don't want to do it. If it further separates students from traditionally high achieving or what you would call high achieving from regular classes. So we decided that we're calling it IB for all. It's not really IB for all in the way that some IB schools have implemented IB, meaning that every student is an IB diploma student, we are making it so that there's not in English and social studies to start. There's not regular history and IB history. Everyone takes the IB as their college prep or graduation requirement.

Daniel (07:26): Got it. So what I'm hearing is that students, there's not another option. It's, you're going to take the rigorous course and that's one way to make it equitable for all students.

Tracey (07:38): Yes, exactly. Three years ago, before we were thinking about IB, even decided that at the ninth grade level in English, there used to be two different courses, intensive English and our regular English. We decided that we would have all of our classes be intensive English. We had no data, we had no information that said students were doing better in the intensive or that there was even a reason to put a student in intensive versus regular. So we put all of our students in the intensive English, changed the curriculum to make it more varied. And all of our students, the data showed did better and that was really helpful for us in moving to this idea with IB, we saw that we had success in other areas.

Daniel (08:28): Yeah. So I guess for the Ruckus Maker, that's listening part of it is if you can test it, pilot it in one area, then sort of have a case study of success. You can show that you can do this building wide. That's really interesting. Now the PE teachers, they had the uniforms to hold onto, but sometimes I've found that honors and rigorous course teachers have some mindset shifts they need to make because they might not believe all kids are ready, right. For an IB level history or whatever it is. So how are you working on faculty mindset regarding a rigorous courses?

Tracey (09:08): It was about getting as many teachers as we could on board with the philosophy around access for students. We have a smaller kind of department chair or leadership group, and we talked a lot about how can we make this happen if we don't want to have a school within a school, but we want to have this curriculum where there's this depth of learning. We just started talking about if this is curriculum and this way of teaching and being, and learning is good for some students, why isn't it good for all students? And we have that internal conversation a lot. If this is right for kids, then it's right for all kids. So how do we make that happen? Different schools have done different things where they implement IB, but they don't call it IB because they still are separating IB and non IB, but we're just gonna go for it. We've given ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn as we go. And not everyone agrees still. It is really hard to shift from AP to IB in that way, because AP is just so entrenched and it is so stratified in terms of levels. So we also had to do some work around what IB means because it's very different than AP.

Daniel (10:35): Yeah. So permission to fail, that's a big piece and making that normal and okay. To take risks and learn from the mistakes you make. Talk to me more about the philosophy though. You said you met a lot, quantify that, is it a weekly gathering of the entire staff? Is that departmental? Is it a combination? Talk to me about the philosophy and the frequency piece.

Tracey (11:01): We only have monthly meetings with this instructional leadership group, but we also have a cycle of meetings in the school. So we structured it so that the instructional group would meet. Then there would be a department meeting. So they would bring information to the department about what we discussed and then we would have a whole staff meeting. So we just kept cycling back and not changing the subject. We would just revisit and revisit, okay, here is what we talked about as leadership, here's what you guys talked about in departments. Let's spend some time all together getting on the same page, getting aligned, having a discussion. We did that for two years. So it's a lot of repeat and discussion.

Daniel (11:46): Yeah. Jeff Wiener, I don't know if he's still the CEO of LinkedIn or if he's moved to a new position, but said people don't start hearing your message until you get bored of it. Right. I'm glad that came out because what I want the Ruckus Maker listening to get is that was a two year long discussion. You got to stick with it because people aren't at the same point that you are, how did you get through those tough moments because I'm sure it did get boring or frustrating, like why aren't people getting it yet, but yeah. Tell me how you got through that.

Tracey (12:24): I think part of it is having an admin team that's consistent and strong. I can't imagine trying to do this if I didn't have a core team that didn't change. I know a lot of schools have turnover, frequent turnover with administrators, and that can be so hard to get anything done. So you have to have people that share a vision and get it and that know how to work together. So I think that was a big part of it having that team and just. The staff was enthusiastic about it because I think we were enthusiastic and we had so much information to share and talk about that the staff had momentum too. We don't have a lot of staff turnover. I think those things really helped. Plus, it felt righteous. And whenever you have something that feels like it's the right thing to do, it makes it a lot easier.

Daniel (13:20): You can put your head down on the pillow at night, knowing that you are fighting the good fight and doing what's right for kids. I'm sure that moves you through the discomfort. There's a student, Student X that you like to talk about within your school. And I liked this idea quite a bit. Tell the Ruckus Maker, listening a bit about Student X and maybe some situations where you'll bring Student X, up in a discussion with educators in your building to get a more equitable outcome.

Tracey (13:56): When we look at our school policies and practices, we do it with student X in mind, or we try to as much as possible because not everyone agrees. People are getting there for sure. We read as the staff of book. We read parts of the book. I shared parts of the book it's called Opening Doors by Trish. She talks about this idea that there are so many ways that doors are closed for kids in schools with the policies and practices, or even the things that we say to students that discourage them, or just shut the door altogether. An example that she uses in the book is being ineligible for sports, right? Using students' grades to prevent them from participating and different people feel differently about this.

Tracey (14:58): That grades are a motivator to keep kids engaged in school, that she talks about allowing kids to still practice, because that's a way to keep them engaged instead of having them quit the team, because just cutting a kid off because of their grades, as a policy, basically any policy that's black and white is going to alienate people and everything in schools deals with people. So it's situational. So we shared some of these ideas, like what are the things we're doing that might shut doors for kids. Are we having homecoming that's a traditional King and queen a gender binary popularity contest, who who's left out when you do that. If we have a meeting for parents that happens at 8:30 in the morning who can come versus who can come at 7:00 PM. Thinking about each of those situations, if we have a tutorial afterschool where we're supporting the students with their academics, who can come to that and we can't, okay, so student X has a job.

Tracey (16:04): Student X maybe is transgender student X, maybe lives with an aunt and uncle. You have to think about all of the different things that kids are dealing with when you're coming up with ideas on how to help them. And if there are some kids left out, then we have to think again, how can we really have student X access, all of the things that we're trying to offer. And I think that for a long time, it's been okay for students to be left out as long as most of your students are doing okay. I think people feel like, I'm being successful because I look at these successful students and it's hard to look at the students who were not needing, we're not meeting their needs. We just keep trying we're not perfect. We don't have student X covered in every area, but I feel like keeping in our mind and talking about it and changing the things that we can as much as possible is definitely reaching more students.

Daniel (17:04): In that last scenario too, that's the hardest one to bring up student X, because when school's working for most of the population, it's really hard to motivate people and influence and drive them to change because they point back, we have the blue ribbon, we're top 10 in the state, the majority of kids get it and there's just these five or whatever. It doesn't matter the number when you peel back those layers and look there. Folks don't want to change, but to me that's where the opportunity is, right. Because whatever excellence you're experiencing as a school community, imagine if those kids that aren't the student x. If they are then experiencing the same level of success, what would that do to the school community, right. To me, that's like, it's a dream score that everybody's needs are being met, but that's something I want to be a part of. I'm appreciating that you brought up that last scenario.

Tracey (18:02): Yeah. Thanks. Being in the quarantine and trying this remote or distance learning is another good example of this digital divide. Some schools had mandatory online meeting with teachers and is it okay if it's 10 students who don't have access to wifi, what's the number, if a hundred percent of your students don't have it, then how can you require that all students meet online?

Daniel (18:36): Exactly. Well, Tracy, I've enjoyed this discussion so far student X, access, equity. We're going to pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors. But when we get back, I'd love to ask you about your experience with organized binder. Today's show is brought to you by organized binder, organized binder, develops the skills and habits. All students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn, better leaders, better schools is brought to you by teachers using Teach FX to increase student engagement online and in the classroom during an ongoing pandemic.

sponsor (19:32): Hi, we're the third grade team from general Stanford elementary. And we're here to tell you about our experience with Teach Fx it has been a really eyeopening experience for us this year. We know that students who are highly engaged in the classroom achieve a higher level of success. So we use Teach Fx to help us monitor and collect data, Teach FX has really helped us reach our professional goals to pinpoint students that maybe aren't used talking as much as well as seeing our balance of wait time group, talk time, student, talk time, and then teacher talk time across the grade level and kind of discuss with each other, , what's working in your classroom versus what might be working in mine.

Daniel (20:10): Learn more about using teach Fx to support your teachers with feedback during COVID visit that's All right. And we're back with Tracy Runeare, who was talking about equity and access and student x. This has been a wonderful conversation. You've used if I have it right in my notes, Organized Binder for a decade, which is quite a long time to stick with anything. So tell me why you keep coming back to organize binder and using it.

Tracey (20:50): So the organized binder we found was a way to create that consistency of experience for students. As I described, we've got students at all different levels. Every school has students at all different levels and with a variety of resources and a variety of experiences coming into school, we found that we needed something or we wanted something that would make it easier for students, or make it more comprehensible, I guess, better than easier to go from teacher, to teacher, to teacher during the day, and know what's going to happen when they walk in the door, ,they're going to have a kickoff question and have the structure that was repeated to get them into what we called student newness, that we knew we needed to explicitly teach how to be at school. And the organized binder was this structure that allowed us to teach students and also to have teachers be thinking about lesson planning in a similar way.

Daniel (21:55): Yeah. So the teachers were thinking about a lesson plan in a similar way. Did you see any other benefits for the faculty in terms of using organized binder?

Tracey (22:07): I think that it really helps with communication when you're having a meeting or when you're talking about instruction, anything instructional, if you can talk about either how the binder is being used in your class, or just the language, the expectation, right. That we all have this closure at the end, we all have this structure. We all are going to take time in our day to have the students use the binder. It's that shared experience because teaching is so isolating and you don't really know what's happening in someone else's classroom. When everyone's using the binder, you always have something to talk about.

Daniel (22:41): What was it like? You started 10 years ago and now it's part of the culture and this is my last question regarding organized binder, but the initial investment in terms of getting your team up to speed, like how to use it, and then what it takes to maintain it.

Tracey (23:02): So we had Mitch Weathers come to our school and do a presentation on what the binder was and how he uses it. And we had some people who had actually known him from working at Sequoyah High School together. They were colleagues and had used the binders. So, that was helpful also to have a teacher who had previously used the binder at another school. So her enthusiasm was kind of contagious and so is his. We started just by using the organized binder in the ninth grade core classes. Let's make an agreement that we'll just start with ninth grade because there's the feeling like AP kids don't need the binder, 12th graders don't need a system. They already know how to do school, but ninth graders do. What we found was that everyone needs the binder.

Tracey (23:55): Everyone can use it. It's helpful to all students, regardless of their grade level or what class they're in. As people started feeling successful, as students started asking teachers to use it, we broaden it to school wide. And then every time Mitch comes and does a training at the beginning of the year for our new teachers. We invite veteran teachers who want to talk about maybe some, either struggles they're having or questions that they have. And then also I have a teacher who's onsite and acts as kind of the lead binder person to help answer questions or give advice. You need to know tutorials on the binder. We have, Organized Binder kind of proper or central, where we can get resources and help. But then I also have someone on site. Who's a resource for new teachers or teachers, just new to the binder.

Daniel (24:49): Thank you. And Tracy, if you're going to put a message on all school marquees around the world, just for a day, what would your marquee say?

Tracey (24:58): I think something about saving democracy, public schools are saving democracy. I really believe that the work of public schools is the most important work that we can be doing. That people make a choice to attend public schools and they need to be the best that they can be the highest level. I really think that we are saving democracy by doing this work,

Daniel (25:27): Building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Tracey (25:39): I don't know how I would build it, but I think that the structure of the bureaucracy needs to be adjusted a bit. There's a lot of I in leadership that needs to shift to we there's so much power in a team and believing and working together and asking questions and being thoughtful. That could happen a lot more, I think in every public institution where there's a bureaucracy and there's this idea of leadership that you look a certain way, you act a certain way. There's a lot of what I did, I'm doing this thing. I built this school, I made this, I made this happen. And there's some, I don't know, it's just tradition in that's what principals do. They're the leaders, they're the I of the school. And we need to shift that so that everyone's on board.

Tracey (26:30): I feel like that's something we've really built intentionally through our teams. So by doing that, having a team, that's all working together, repeating these values, believing in what doing, that's, how you build the dream school. I think that dream school is a community resource. It's a place where parents feel like they can come to you and they feel welcomed. They feel part of what's going on. They feel ownership in it, and that's not easy to do, but it's definitely possible. You hire the right people in your offices, you have conversations, you have meetings with parents that are meaningful. So being a community resources is really important. I think a school where students don't fail the dream school because, because the name of the school fails once student fails, when students fail, , how can you mean, that's what they're there for? , and if students are walking away having gone to school and then not getting credits, not graduating what did you do? How can you measure your success by that, that would be my second thing. Really making sure that those values around students are solid. I mean, that's why we're in business. We're there for kids. We have jobs to do, and those jobs are for our students. And so in every way, how are we serving them?

Daniel (28:01): Tracy, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Tracey (28:12): I don't know. I think maybe it's that things take time, do not give up on what you think is important or what your team believes is important. And to keep remembering why you're doing that work and pointing to it is easy to get frustrated and that the bureaucracy like ours and it is easy when people are pushing back. But I think it's hard to argue with values that are sound, if you're thinking about kids, if you are working for their success, then you have to look really hard at what you're doing. And the ed code, the school rules, are those helpful, are those doing what you want them to do? Are they there for the adults or are they there for the kids? I think keeping those, just keeping the philosophy at the forefront.

Daniel (29:06): Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel at better leaders, better or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbuds. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

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Tracey Runeare: Equity in school: The moral imperative to provide for your students

“You have to think about all of the different things that kids are dealing with when you’re coming up with ideas on how to help them. If there are some kids left out, then we have to think again. How can we really have Student X access all of the things that we’re trying to offer. I think that for a long time it’s been okay for students to be left out as long as most of your students are doing okay.”

Tracey Runeare



  • Organized Binder is an evidence-based RTI2 Tier 1 universal level solution
  • Focuses on improving executive functioning and noncognitive skills
  • Is in direct alignment with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework
  • Is an integral component for ensuring Least Restrictive Environments (LRE)

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