Principal Ericka Briones: Overcoming Adversity to Continue to Deliver Great Outcomes

“Overcoming Adversity to Continue to Deliver Great Outcomes” is the first episode of the “Classroom of the Future” (COTF) series in the podcast, “Charter School Superstars.” The series was started to give a voice to the stakeholders at participating in COTF. The first guest in this series was Ericka Briones, the principal of Pinecrest Creek Academy. Pinecrest Creek is an A-rated charter school in Orlando, Florida. In this episode, they discussed her school and how their students and teachers have benefited from the Classroom of the Future.

Pinecrest Creek Academy serves nearly one hundred students in grades K-5. Pinecrest serves a perdominantly low income population, with 89% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Their dedication to student success has helped them make astounding progress since their early years. At inception, students entered the school well below grade level. Through hard work, dedication and a student-centered approach, the school improved to an A rating for the 2018-2019 school year. Ericka Briones would attribute this success to their close-knit family environment. Her belief is that once you tend to the student’s own emotional needs, everything else falls in place. Now, one would think that the COVID pandemic is a hindrance to maintaining their close-knit environment. But for Pinecrest Creek, that is not the case.

Pinecrest Creek uses the technology they have to encourage normalcy for students who cannot attend school in person. In fact, Ericka Briones pointed out that the auto-tracking camera is sometimes used to highlight the students who are in class. She says this helps remote-learning students feel more immersed in the class setting. In addition, the 75-inch, flat-screen TV in their COTF restores normalcy by allowing students to have small day-to-day interactions they had before the pandemic. As she put it, “we can continue to see if someone’s tooth fell out or to see if someone got a haircut.”

Though the benefits are evident, the reception was uncomfortable. Ericka Briones said, “teachers in general aren’t used to getting all this technology handed to them from one day to the next.” At first, teachers in Pinecrest Creek were hesitant towards the new technology in the classroom. Yet, weeks into implementing COTF, Ericka Briones says it amazes teachers and it has become something they cannot live without. The same applies to the students. Ericka describes that the new technology in the classroom fascinated the students. She even said that she felt as though they were grateful for the changes.

The fascination teachers and students have with COTF is not baseless. COTF has yielded positive results in Pinecrest Creek. One of the most notable impacts COTF is the increased attendance. This is important considering that chronic absenteeism is associated with lower academic performance. In addition, COTF has facilitated parent-teacher meetings by offering more flexibility and allowing parents to attend remotely. This is a noteworthy benefit because parental involvement is crucial to student success.

Although those are the current benefits, they have greater expectations for the future. When asked what she expected of COTF in the future, Ericka Briones said she expected it to continue promoting attendance. She also noted the possibility of using COTF to accommodate students who might be, as Ryan Kairalla said, “too sick to attend school, but not too sick to learn.” Seeing that COTF increased attendance and increased parental involvement in the first months, the future is promising.

Learn more about the Classroom of the Future and its effects in Pinecrest Creek Academy by listening to episode 90 of Charter School Superstars.

1“School Attendance Is Tied To Academic Achievement”. 2016. MSU Extension. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/school_attendance_is_tied_to_academic_achievement#.

2“How Parent Involvement Leads To Student Success | Waterford.Org”. 2020. Waterford.Org. https://www.waterford.org/education/how-parent-involvment-leads-to-student-success/.

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