Shout Out: Urban Promise Academy

06 Sep, 2023

Shout Out: Urban Promise Academy

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8th grade newcomer students present their work to families at the Learning Expo. Photo c/o Tierre Mesa

8th grade newcomer students present their work to families at the Learning Expo. Photo c/o Tierre Mesa

Urban Promise Academy (UPA) opened its doors in 2001 as part of the Oakland Unified School District. UPA is intentional about centering work around students and focuses on the whole child: academics, social-emotional development, mental health, and behavioral needs. The concept of serving the whole child is core to the ethos of UPA. The school’s strategic vision is aimed at developing scholars, warriors, and artists. They are dedicated to setting Oakland middle school students up for success in college and career by equipping them with the skills to become confident, self-driven learners and respectful leaders who show solidarity with their communities.

RFF staff had the opportunity to interview UPA’s principal, Tierre Mesa, to learn about the school’s secret sauce. Tierre shared that UPA thinks holistically about the kids and families they serve. They have developed systems over time and work towards continuous improvement, holding students at the center. Their systems uphold several aspects of a student’s ecosystem, which include a balanced focus on family support, academic success, and teacher capacity and growth. Fun fact: Tierre’s son just entered the 6th grade at UPA. She says, “It has been wonderful watching him thrive in the different leadership opportunities offered by our school and experience the joyful and supportive community that UPA has built.”

With regard to family support, UPA hosts a robust family resource center. The center serves students and families, setting them up with access to basic services, connections to community organizations, outreach to UPA’s family workshops, onsite food distribution through Alameda County Food Bank, translation services to help create and support connection between families and teachers, as well as onsite mental health services for students.

UPA is dedicated to academic support for their students. Every student has an assigned mentor that they check in with every 2 weeks. In each of the one-to-one mentor sessions, students review academic goals, successes over the past weeks, and talk through strategies to reach goals. With these meetings, students have the opportunity to get a deeper level of support while feeling more connected to an adult on campus, and mentors are able to gather information about the student’s individual needs that are then shared with other teachers. Mentoring is often thought of as a Tier 3 strategy, but Tierre stresses that it’s important that every student has access to this.

UPA students, families and staff work collectively on priorities. Photo c/o Tierre Mesa.

UPA students, families and staff work collectively on priorities. Photo c/o Tierre Mesa.

The school has a legacy of strong instructional leaders who have developed systems to provide rigorous quality instruction. They believe in providing teachers with access to coaching and quality professional development. UPA has established a culture of constantly pushing deep thinking on what instruction should look like, while creating resources for getting there. Quality instruction is clearly at the forefront. 

Tierre explained that the conditions and systems for success can be attributed to being responsive and attentive to staff needs in service of student needs. This is evidenced by UPA’s impressive staff longevity and the fact that many staff are also UPA alumni. UPA intentionally develops leadership among staff with ongoing cultivation of leadership opportunities for teachers. As a result, they have created long-standing institutional knowledge and foundational continuity, continuously improving and building on things they have learned over time. Additionally, staff are empowered to share in decision-making. Tierre made the distinction that professional development is not designed for staff; it is designed with staff. “There’s power in collaboration… We have such a solid group of veteran teachers that have been at UPA for so long, that when we are welcoming in new staff, our hope and my goal is that we built structures so our new staff feel like there’s opportunity to collaborate and build with each other… An instructional coach is also not the only person that’s providing knowledge to a teacher. There’s also just the value of teachers having time and space to work together, in meaningful ways.”

We asked Tierre if UPA could have three wishes granted today, what they would be. Tierre responded that she would love to be able to:

  • revitalize UPA’s main yard space to provide more recess activities and shaded seating.
  • provide more materials for teachers to support arts-integrated projects in classrooms.
  • purchase more books for our classroom libraries.

UPA is currently working to increase student engagement in regular academic discussions around grade-level appropriate texts and content. UPA believes that when students have regular opportunities to verbally share and explain their thinking in class, they practice new language, expand their vocabulary use, and deepen their understanding of new and complex concepts.  

To stay connected with UPA’s work, reach out to Tierre at and share your ideas about how you’d like to get involved, follow the school on instagram @urbanpromiseacademy, or check out UPA’s website at

Written and edited by Bonnie Look and Amy Breshears

Bonnie Look joined the RFF team in 2017. She designs and coordinates the implementation of the Foundation’s strategic communications, program operations, grants management and evaluation. Bonnie’s favorite childhood book was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Her hope for Oakland students if for each to realize their potential, to feel valued and loved, and have a hunger for continuous learning in school and beyond.
Amy Breshears Kid Pic
Amy Breshears joined the RFF team in 2023. She transitioned from the Rogers Family Office, working in office management and administration, to the Foundation’s strategic communications and events teams. Her favorite childhood book was Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. Her hope for Oakland students is that the community at large prioritizes providing them a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and follow their dreams.