Beverly Vista Middle School (BVMS) principal Kevin Allen, who joined the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) in 2014 as the principal at El Rodeo School, announced his retirement at the end of the school year. Allen played an integral role in the District’s reconfiguration and oversaw the establishment of BVMS in 2019–the first consolidated middle school in BHUSD history. Days before students are set to return for in-person instruction after over a year of home learning, Allen spoke to the Courier about the importance of fostering a sense of community, his school motto, achieving academic excellence in the face of adversity and what’s next.
Established in 1924, Beverly Vista School historically served students in grades TK-8. At the start of the 2019-2020 school year, Beverly Vista Middle School officially opened to staff and students in grades 6-8 across the District. Despite Allen’s first year as BVMS principal having been interrupted due to the pandemic, his efforts shaped the future of the District and students in the years to come.
Before he began at BHUSD, Allen was the principal of Alameda Unified School District and Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District from 2005 to 2014. Under his leadership, El Rodeo achieved California Distinguished Schools Status prior to the reconfiguration.
BHC: Due to the pandemic, BVMS was forced to physically close less than a year after opening. With the school still in its infancy, how was the transition last spring to home learning and now, this spring, returning back to the classroom?
Allen: We had such an incredible start at our school and we really reimagined our program for middle school kids in our District. We had never really focused on them as individuals and as individual learners before, and they were always like a side note to the elementary kids until now. Overall, I think that it was successful given the reality of what we were dealing with. Would we have preferred to be on campus? Absolutely. But did we make it work? We absolutely did.
We’re still making it work. For me, going out is a little bittersweet because I am incredibly invested in the success of BVMS. I was the first principal, and it was kind of my baby. But I’m also thankful that we’re coming back live right now and that I get to be the principal that brings people back on campus. I’m thankful that I’m not leaving that really difficult task to someone new, because I think that would be a really difficult thing. We have a very strong and trusting relationship between the administration and teachers, and I think that’s what it’s going to take to make this transition successful again.
BHC: What prompted the move to retire now, just as students are returning the classroom?
Allen: A couple of things that kind of came into play. One of them was that the District offered this early retirement incentive. Both of my kids are getting married next year, and I’m going to be having grandkids soon. And then the other thing is my husband’s job with virtual completely virtual indefinitely so basically, everything just kind of happened in perfect unison, and I knew it was the right thing. I’m ready for the next adventure of my life. I’d like to open an art gallery in Palm Springs and get involved in the art education community in Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley.”
BHC: How have you leveraged your role as principal to empower both students and teachers during this time?
Allen: More than anything, one of my biggest jobs is to be the cheerleader-in-chief and to remind the staff that there’s nothing that we cannot do together. Before school even started, was we adopted a motto for our staff: You got this. That motto was just to remind them every single day that there is nothing we are doing that we can’t do. I put it on every single email and every communication. You guys have this. You are smart, amazing people and you’ve got this. And that is huge to me. That’s kind of how I see my job, to remind them that it’s good to be okay and to kind of move things forward. And that’s what I feel like we have been able to do.
One of our four core values is building resilience. And for kids, it’s about reminding them that this is what building resilience looks like. I remind them that what they are experiencing right now is going to have a profound impact on their ability to face any adversity that life throws. I’m constantly reminding the kids that that there’s a silver lining to this.”
BHC: What motivated you to want to become a school principal?
Allen: I realized that I could have a much greater impact on the overall community as a principal than I would have as a teacher. When you’re a teacher, you impact a classroom. When you’re a principal, you impact an entire school community. And to me, that was a calling. One area where I really feel strongly about is the sense of community. I constantly refer to us as the BVMS village and that’s something that I really tried to reinforce in all that I do. We are a community, we are a village, and we’re here to take care of kids together. Not the teachers, not the administrators, not the parents, but all of us, as a team.
I’m a curriculum person. I taught at Chapman University for seven years in the education department, and so I really love curriculum and instruction and curriculum design. I really love the idea of like working with teachers on curriculum reform. If you ask my teachers, they know the things that are important for me are curriculum instructionally, learning targets and DOK, which is depth of knowledge. There’s a list that we’ve really been focusing on as a staff, and that’s how I can set the direction as a principal.
BHC: What do you see as the most important skills or qualifications for a principal to possess?
Allen: The ability to communicate a vision is really important and to be able to really articulate a strong vision for growth. The second thing that is really important is to be able to build and maintain a sense of community among staff and among the parents. I think the third thing is just to be passionate about teaching and learning. You have to be passionate, and you have to really strive for academic excellence to then be able to shepherd your school in those directions.
BHC: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges ahead of BVMS and the District?
Allen: Obviously, bringing the school back intact. But also, a big thing is to maintain this sense of community. If you’ve got everybody going in the same direction–whether it’s the teachers or the parents–if everybody’s moving in the same direction, the school is going to grow. If you’ve articulated a powerful vision, then the school is going to grow.
I really love the Beverly Hills community. I’ve been in a lot of different districts, but I have never been at a district that has literally 100 percent of the ingredients necessary for success. Those ingredients are an educated parent community and an engaged parent community. There’s a sense of affluence, obviously, that definitely doesn’t hurt. The biggest challenge, I think, for the community is maintaining a sense of community. It’s a very diverse community, and we have to remember that student success depends on parents coming together and rising above their differences to support kids.