ALUMNI TEACHER PROFILE:

Administrator grateful to his teachers is now growing more of them

Justin Salters at Caravan 2018

Brandon Ware is coordinator of curriculum at the Bakersfield City School District and manages for BCSD a locally groundbreaking partnership with CSUB called the Kern Urban Teacher Residency Program.

By CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni engagement specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

As a little kid, Brandon Ware lived a nomadic, unstructured life, bouncing between Bakersfield and East St. Louis, being raised by family members battling drug addiction, and moving in and out of so many schools he can’t remember the names of all his teachers.

Though he may not know all their names, Ware gives those teachers a lot of credit for his success in life. They believed in him, cared about him and gave him at least some modicum of structure.

“It sounds cliché, but I get really emotional when I talk about my teachers,” Ware said. “Because if I didn’t have someone who believed in a little African-American boy who was not always well-groomed,  not always able to provide or give what the teacher looked for, who was able to look at me as an individual, then I wouldn’t be here today.”

Where he is today is paying it back, as coordinator of curriculum at the Bakersfield City School District. That includes managing for BCSD a locally groundbreaking partnership with CSUB to develop credential candidates into the kind of teachers his district needs.

The Kern Urban Teacher Residency program offers training, mentoring and generous financial support to future teachers studying at CSUB in exchange for a commitment to teach at BCSD for two years. It boosts the credential candidates’ chances of graduating and helps the district recruit and retain highly qualified teachers who are culturally sensitive to BCSD’s largely Hispanic and socio-economically disadvantaged student population and who are math- and science-focused.

Nineteen residents will participate in the program this school year. BCSD and CSUB administrators selected the residents together and will train them together. The two-year-old program has been so successful that the Greenfield Union and Kern High school districts have adopted similar ones.

“We are not only changing the landscape of education, we’re changing the landscape of Bakersfield,” Ware said.

‘I LOVED SCHOOL, I LOVED LEARNING’

For Ware, the work is personal. He sees his younger self in a lot of BCSD’s students.

Brandon Ware in childhood

Ware in kindergarten, 1991.

Ware’s immediate family growing up consisted of just his mother and sister. He’s never met his father.

The trio traveled back and forth between Bakersfield, where he was born, and East St. Louis, Ill., which often makes lists of the most dangerous cities in America. Where they lived depended on the type of employment his mom was able to obtain. No one ever read to him.

“I have gangs, substance abuse, anything you can imagine,” he said of what was around him growing up. “Everyone had an issue. That’s not to say they weren’t great individuals, they just had those things.”

At the end of his eighth-grade year the family finally settled, in east Bakersfield, and Ware enrolled in Foothill High School. Despite the chaotic nature of his childhood, he always did well in school.

In fact, an elementary school teacher once gave him a poem called “I raised my hand so long I forgot” because she had to stop calling on him to answer questions and give other kids a chance.

“I loved school, I loved learning,” he said.

At Foothill he was involved in Project BEST, an educational enrichment program for African-American boys, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and ASB. He played football and basketball and ran track.

When he was 17, Ware moved in with his maternal grandparents around Union Avenue and V Street in southeast Bakersfield. As a young boy he’d been smart and sweet and helpful, and he continued to be all those things as a teenager, said his grandmother Angilee Dyer.

Angilee Dyer, grandmother of Brandon Ware

Ware’s grandmother, Angilee Dyer, with his two daughters, Bayleigh, 4, and Brooklyn, 10 months.

“He was real nice. He wasn’t a bad child at all,” said Dyer, cradling Ware’s 10-month-old daughter and wearing a red T-shirt that said, “Love is being a grandma.”

“I enjoyed being with him. He gave us respect. He was a real nice kid.. I never had to spank him or put him on punishment.”

Asked how Ware avoided getting into the trouble that was all around him, Dyer said she didn’t know.

“I really don’t understand why but he didn’t,” Dyer said. “He was just a different child.”

IMPACTING 30 LIVES A YEAR

Tired of moving and wanting to help take care of his mom, sister and grandparents, Ware chose CSUB over San Diego State and the UCs into which he was also accepted.

He studied civil engineering for a year, but then the program shut down. Ware had to come up with a whole new game plan.

“One day I sat on the wall outside DDH with a pamphlet of course offerings and career paths and I thought, ‘What is something that wouldn’t be repetitive, where I wouldn’t be in a cubicle, and that would allow me to impact individual lives?”

He realized that through teaching, he could impact 30 lives a year.

“So that’s where I landed,” Ware said. “I had the best time, the best counselors.”

Wanting to finish up his education as quickly as possible, Ware course-overloaded and earned his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential in just less than four years. He worked at John’s Incredible Pizza full-time the whole way through.

“I went to school from 7 to 3 and worked from 3:30 to 11:30. And then when I student-taught, I worked from 11 to 7 and student-taught from 7:30 to 3.,“ he said.

It’s another reason he’s such a fan of the residency program. The residents don’t have to exhaust themselves like he did or take out huge student loans.

Ware’s first teaching job was teaching third grade at Owens Primary School. Then he taught fourth grade at Jefferson and Roosevelt Elementary schools. His career path was intentional.

“There aren’t too many times a student will have an African-American male teacher in elementary,” he said. “I did not want to take away from them having that.”

He left the classroom in 2012 to work as an academic coach at McKinley Elementary, teaching teachers how to teach. That way he could impact hundreds of students a year. Two years later he was promoted to the district office to become an instructional specialist.

He’s been in his current role since 2016.

‘HE TELLS A GREAT STORY’

Ware is particularly good at lighting a fire under teachers who may be in a rut or who have lost touch with the district, including those who are older and more experienced than he is, said Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Mark Luque.

He does it by sharing the story of his childhood and conveying the urgency of giving students a quality education.

“He tells a great story. You can’t help but be captured by his personality,” Luque said. “He’s a very energetic guy and he can capture an audience with that.

“He’s also a great role model for our students,” Luque went on to say. “He can stand before them and say, ‘It doesn’t matter the challenges you have. I understand and empathize with your challenges, but you can choose to be different. It’s up to you to make that happen.”

Ware and his wife, Melissa, have been married for five years. She’s a third-grade teacher.

Brandon Ware and his wife, Melissa

Ware and his wife, Melissa, a third-grade teacher.

They have two daughters, Bayleigh, 4, and Brooklyn, 10 months.

He’s giving them the childhood he didn’t have, though maybe a little too much structure, he jokes. And he reads to them every night.

“My daughters’ library,” he said, “is insane.”