May 30, 2013
By Maya Mirsky
OAKLAND -- As Reginald Richardson, co-principal at Claremont Middle School, walks down the hall, he stops constantly -- to hug a staff member, shake hands with a parent, high-five a student and stop another student for a quiet word.
And then he's off again, down another corridor to check in with a classroom teacher.
This is the atmosphere these days at Claremont, which is having a good year -- and just in time for the school's 2013 centennial, which will be celebrated Saturday.
This school year was the first for the two new co-principals, identical twins Reginald and Ronald Richardson. Last year, the school went through four temporary principals. Now both brothers know every child in the school by name and will stop and check in every time they see something out of place.
"When they believe that you love them and want the best for them, they begin to change," Reginald Richardson said.
According to Paul Kagiwada, parent of a seventh-grader and co-chair of the Claremont Dads' Club, the arrival of the Richardsons has changed the tenor of the hallways and playgrounds.
"There's so much less tension in school," Kagiwada said.
It's part of the Richardsons' approach, encouraging a culture of respect and character-building that they apply not only to the children but to themselves as role models. They see restorative justice and positive messages as fundamental to creating an environment in which the children canexcel.
"We say discipline is a skill, not a punishment," Reginald Richardson said.
Their galvanizing effect and the fact that they are identical twins has given them plenty of local press and even some national attention. They've been the subjects of an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that was picked up by multiple blogs, and they were part of a national CBS News segment.
They were also heard across the country when public radio show "This American Life" did a spot on the brothers in January. Host Ira Glass came to Oakland to spend a day with the brothers.
"It's such a weird setup to have twin brothers running a school together," Glass said.
The twins have used their double act and particular skills to their advantage, like the time the former track-and-field stars chased down students who were fighting just outside school grounds. They caught the students and their speed impressed a few others, too.
"The funny thing is that those students never tried it again," laughed Reginald Richardson.
The Richardsons' family has a history in education. Their mother was a teacher and their grandmother a principal in Oakland. The twins are graduates of San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley who went through a lengthy process to get the Claremont job. As co-principals, they have no assistant principal. Provisional for the first year, the brothers' jobs were confirmed as permanent in May.
It's a coincidence that their first year is also a special year for the school -- founded in 1913, this year marks its centennial. On the same site since the beginning, it has seen many changes, from the disappearance of street cars to the building of BART and the freeway to many other neighborhood ups and downs.
The school is celebrating with an afternoon open to all and a special invitation for alumni. The day will include guest speakers and music by the school band and orchestra, with food provided by neighboring restaurant Oliveto and, of course, birthday cake.
Although the school site is the same, very little of the original architecture remains. But one bit of the old building is an ornamental iron gate. Long abandoned, it languished on the school grounds for years.
"There was this historic gate just kind of leaning against a wall," said PTA chair Amy Vaughn.