At California school, twin principals are better than one

(CBS News) OAKLAND, Calif. - Here's a crash course in how to fix a troubled school. The problem was too many kids with behavior problems. The answer was to double down.

At Claremont Middle School in Oakland, California, the principal, Mr. Richardson, seems to be everywhere, saying hello to everybody.

He's so busy you might think there are two Mr. Richardsons. And you'd be right.

In 2011, before the Richardson brothers arrived, 35 percent of Claremont Middle Schoool's students were suspended for part of the year. This year suspensions have dropped to just 7 percent.
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Since twin brothers Ronald and Reginald Richardson took over as co-principals at the school last year, students are never quite sure which one has an eye on them.

Ronald and Reginald Richardson are twin brothers and co-principals at Claremont Middle School in Oakland, California.
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It often takes two to keep order in the school. In Oakland poverty, crime and gang violence are persistent problems that can spill over into the schoolyard. And a playground dispute can quickly escalate to real trouble.

In 2011, before the Richardsons arrived, 35 percent of Claremont's students were suspended for part of the year. This year, suspensions have dropped to just 7 percent. And the principal's job is no longer a revolving door. In the past, four principals came and went in a year, making it seem like it was a pretty tough place to work.

"And you know what?" asked Ronald Richardson. "It was an opportunity. We didn't see it as a challenge. We saw it as an opportunity coming in."

Ian Lesser teaches science at Claremont. "It doesn't really matter who you're talking to," he said, "because you're going to get the same message. They're interchangeable people, really. "

The twins have focused on creating an atmosphere of respect. They wear coats and ties every day and call their students "scholars." Even on days when students run a bit wild, the Richardsons find teachable moments in the midst of chaos.

"It's our job as educators and adults to model and support and to listen to provide resources for those students," said Ronald Richardson.

Added Reginald Richardson: "If you are committed to that child, and you love that child, and you're gonna teach them, magical things happen."

At Claremont Middle School, there is no doubt that two is better than one.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.