Numbers, students add up for Tobi Brown

Brownell Middle School math teacher Tobi Brown helps student

– Her name is perfect for her job.
But Tobi Brown’s decision to go from Eliot Elementary School
teacher to seventh-grade math instructor at Brownell Middle School
had more to do with the school being perfect for her.
GILROY – Her name is perfect for her job.

But Tobi Brown’s decision to go from Eliot Elementary School teacher to seventh-grade math instructor at Brownell Middle School had more to do with the school being perfect for her.

“As an elementary teacher, you teach everything, but here I can focus on math,” Brown says, after finishing up some afternoon tutoring in her classroom and over the phone. “I love math so much that teaching the other subjects was taking away from that enjoyment.”

Brown, in her second year at Brownell, is a 20-year teaching veteran, spending 16 of those years in Gilroy Unified School District.

“She’s one of those educators who is always looking for ways to make things better,” Brownell Principal Suzanne Damm said.

Glancing across Brown’s classroom windows one can see how much better she has helped make things for her students. Posted on the glass are yellow sheets of construction paper showing how many points individual students have improved on standardized practice tests.

Brown’s students have upped their scores between 3.1 and 4.4 points across all seventh-grade math subjects. One student who Brown described as an underachiever coming into the school year jumped more than 20 points on the test, a class high.

“I saw that he wasn’t taking school seriously, so I got mom’s work number and things started to change,” Brown said.

After the student saw his scores improve, he asked his teacher himself if he could be moved out of the remedial section of his math class, Brown said.

Improved student test scores, always a goal of educators, is an especially big deal at Brownell.

Over the last two years, the school has been unable to improve its performance on standardized exams, making it vulnerable to state intervention as early as February. Intervention sanctions range from replacing school management to sending in so-called corrective action teams.

The consistent and across-the-board improvement Brown’s students have shown on the recent practice tests is a welcomed indicator that next year’s scores will show Brownell students are on an upswing.

“But even without that, just walking into her classroom you get that there’s a good feeling there,” Damm said.

Brown says the positive energy has as much to do with what goes on outside of class as inside.

“The whole reason I moved to Brownell was because I knew the math department worked as a team, and I was used to that at Eliot,” Brown said.

Something “the team” promised it would do for students is be available for tutoring beyond regular classroom hours. Each day after the final bell rings, upwards of a couple dozen students can be seen in Brown’s class getting help on the problems of the day. Brown also receives regular phone calls from students who have gone home but need some extra help.

“They have to get it. In math, you move from one type of problem to the next almost every day. If they don’t have a grasp of it today, they’ll be lost tomorrow,” Brown said.

Brown thrives, she says, off student interaction. In fact, she doesn’t have any aspirations to take an administrative post in her career because it would mean too much time out of the classroom.

“I just made a big jump from elementary to middle school, so I don’t need a change,” Brown said. “And I love the kids, I need to stay in (the classroom)with them because I feel like I can make such a big difference that way.”

Brown’s jump to middle school is not without its challenges. Although she is fully credentialed, the mother of two GUSD students is doing additional schooling because the type of credential for elementary and middle school teachers is different.

She has also upped her student load of roughly 20 kids to 180 since middle schoolers switch classes for different subjects.

As if raising a family, handling a full-time work schedule, and being involved with the Boy Scouts wasn’t enough on one person’s plate, Brown is also a devout runner who once completed a marathon. Every morning before school, the Gilroy resident is up on her treadmill before sunrise.

“I used to do lots of 10Ks, but now I’m mostly on the treadmill, at about 4:45 every morning,” Brown said.

Brown and her husband Dan, a former manager at Gilroy Foods and currently vice president of operations for Monterey Pasta Company in Salinas, are also supporters of the Gilroy High School band. Their eldest son is a member of the band and both children play musical instruments like their flautist and pianist mom.

Brown says the public school system’s ability to deliver a well-rounded education is why she believes in it enough to not only work for public schools, but enroll her kids in them, too.

“I think Brownell is a great place to be,” Brown said. “If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have my child here and I wouldn’t have chosen to be a part of it.”


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