Dr. Brent Stephens is new to the Lafayette School District this year. Now a couple of months into the role as LAFSD Superintendent, LPIE took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his philosophy as an educator, what he looks forward to achieving, and more.
We’d love to know more about your background and main responsibilities. What inspired you to move into this new role? What drew you to Lafayette schools?
It’s been wonderful to be here in Lafayette. The district’s strong reputation for warmth, kindness, and excellence has been really notable to me, and I see it on all our campuses. As I get to know our students, families, staff, and principals, I’m so impressed by the way the community’s commitment to public education translates into so many programs and opportunities for our students.
For almost thirty years, I’ve worked in a wide variety of settings and roles in public education, from Special Education aide to Spanish bilingual teacher to school principal. In all these roles, including this one, working with students and families is always the most rewarding part of the job. There’s not a single day that doesn’t give a chance for collaboration, listening, and compassion.
What drives you as an educator? What do you see as the most exciting thing happening in education today?
It’s been an intensely challenging time in education, and in some ways we’re all still recovering from this long period of uncertainty and disruption. Looking ahead, I’m most excited about the opportunities to ensure that all students are seen as the important individuals they are, and to be sure that wellness develops as an important priority for students’ growth. I think that we all saw during the pandemic how important mental health is for young people, and we should hang on to this deepened realization as we go forward.
How do you see Lafayette Schools developing under your leadership this year? What goals would you like to achieve?
I’m stepping into a very strong district, and the schools here are genuinely impressive. I hope that our families and community know that the quality of our schools is intact. Of course, there are always ways to get better, and I look forward to working with the Governing Board, our amazing staff, and our generous community to identify what amazing next steps we want to take together.
What support are you looking forward to LPIE providing?
I’ve been out on school campuses quite a bit in the last few weeks, and I see evidence of LPIE’s positive impact everywhere I go. It’s low class sizes, aides in classrooms, staffed libraries, counseling centers, and an array of arts, music, and science programs. I agree with everyone who says funding for this level of support should come from the state, but it just doesn’t. When Lafayette community members give to LPIE, they’re making a direct, immediate impact on the lives of the young people in the community.
What books have inspired you? What would you recommend to both students and parents?
I don’t get to read as much as I want to, but I’ve been reflecting a lot on a few books over the summer: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki; Caste by Isabel Wilkerson; and poetry by Constantin Cavafy. I appreciate Suzuki’s book about meditation because his explanation of compassionate practice is a helpful counterpoint to the high level of emotion and anxiety we’re all feeling. Caste offers an explanation of why our country continues to suffer from unfairness, and Cavafy’s poetry has such a wistful, yearning feel to it. I also really loved Ben Marc’s album “Breathe Suite”, which came out at the end of last year and conveys so much about the impact of unfairness on young people.
What big accomplishment of yours would you share with the Lafayette school community?
I’m most proud of my family - just like everyone, I suppose. There’s no greater accomplishment in my book than being solid for the people you love. Among the different things outside of work that I love to do when I get a chance: running the trails in Redwood Park, seeing friends, playing music, and discovering new bands.
What excites you the most about this coming school year?
I’m most excited about taking a few more steps closer to normal: seeing students back in class, hanging out with each other on the playground, being themselves without as much of the underlying anxiety that marked so much of the last three years. For our educators, I’m excited that we can spend more time talking about what we love: teaching, curriculum, and supporting students. Our staff started in this field to make a difference in the lives of young people, and it’s deeply gratifying to return to a familiar way to have this positive impact.