By Natalie Walchuk
It wouldn’t be a standard day in the life of a principal without an early morning call to help a young person ease into the start of a rainy day. Principal Gabriel Chilcott steps into the Mira Vista front office with a student and leads him to a seat nearby. With the young man now settled by some encouraging words, Principal Chilcott invites us into the conference room.
Sitting atop Hazel Drive in Richmond, Mira Vista’s backyard offers breathtaking views of the San Francisco skyline. What’s more impressive than the scenery, however, is what’s happening inside the classrooms of the growing K-8. Mira Vista has shown significant and sustained growth in ELA and Math – 10% and 6% respectively – over the last three years.
Data-driven instruction is a frequently used phrase in the education space, but one that is not often put into practice. Widely recognized as a key lever to improve student performance, data can provide clarity, direction, and alignment of targeted interventions at school sites.
Under Principal Chilcott’s leadership, data plays an integral role. Every trimester, he and his teachers budget time to look at broader growth trends, as well as individual student progress. With a spirit of shared urgency, the entire staff measures success by the number of 8th grade students leaving Mira Vista prepared for the challenges of high school. To effectively monitor the impact of interventions, Principal Chilcott works diligently to bring data to the student level and encourages his teachers to take the same approach.
As a self-proclaimed data geek, Principal Chilcott is not limited by charts and graphs. In fact, he urges practitioners to always look beyond the numbers. “On some level, as a human being, you need to be able to imagine what you’re going to be able to do to move another human being,” he shared. “Numbers help, but they can’t be everything.”
In Principal Chilcott’s mind, data is more than information — it is the pathway to improved life outcomes, hopes, and dreams for every young person in his school. With this mindset, every school day remains authentically student-centered with the commitment to movement and growth.
An Intentional Campus Culture
From classroom instruction to the physical environment, every element of school life on the Mira Vista campus is thoughtfully and intentionally considered. Periodically, Principal Chilcott and his staff tour the hallways guided by a singular question: “How do we move from a good school to a great school?” The answers inspired innovation on the school’s grounds: multiplication tables painted on stairs, bright hallways, and school gardens. Everything is in place for a reason.
With 600 young people, Mira Vista’s student body is a diverse community of learners: 58% qualify for free or reduced lunch, 29% are English Learners, 14% receive special education services, 19% identify as African American, and 38% identify as Latino. Principal Chilcott sees education as the path to bridging divides and bringing people together. With this in mind, he looks to create “authentic spaces of celebration” on campus. A Richmond native himself, with generational ties to Mira Vista, Principal Chilcott deeply values community connectedness. Whether it’s an evening of STEAM or pajama night, the Mira Vista staff sees each event as an opportunity to intentionally engage students and families.
Honesty As A Schoolwide Policy
Throughout our conversation, Principal Chilcott offered candor and raw self-reflection. “One of my greater strengths is my weakness, in that it’s not something I have a fear of,” he offered, when asked about the arc from his days as a new principal to the present.
Principal Chilcott has grown and developed powerful relationships with his teachers over the years, choosing long-term collaboration over short-term gains. He values the time his teachers offer, and invites their honest feedback and pushback in any discussion. Most importantly, Principal Chilcott protects his staff from initiative fatigue by making intentional tradeoffs to keep the team’s focus on the year’s core goals.
As with teachers, he is both honest and receptive when meeting with parents. A school tour with Principal Chilcott is an open conversation about the school’s strengths and growth areas, and the realities of meeting each young person’s unique needs.
The Mira Vista community continues to grow in size and performance, and with Principal Chilcott approaching his 9th year as the school’s leader, he knows exactly where he’s meant to be. “Richmond is really important to me, and West Contra Costa as a whole,” he shared. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Originally posted at Go Public Schools West Contra Costa