Petaluma’s top teacher Bradley is a classroom innovator

Put a folder on a computer desktop labeled Laura Bradley and inside slip “teacher,” “innovator,” “leader,” “fundraiser,” “motivator,” “doer” and any of a dozen other job-description files.

Bradley, an English and digital media teacher at Kenilworth Junior High School is Petaluma’s Educator of the Year. What she has been able to accomplish to earn that award is amazing bordering on miraculous.

She, along with other Community Awards of Excellence recipients will be honored at an awards ceremony on April 14 at the Sheraton Petaluma Hotel.

Bradley, 52, is a product of the Petaluma City Schools system, starting at Grant Elementary School and studying her way through Petaluma Junior High School and Petaluma High School before moving on the Santa Rosa Junior College and San Francisco State University. She earned her teaching credential at Sonoma State University and Masters degree in educational technology from Sonoma State.

Bradley began her teaching career in 1983 at Altimira Middle School in Sonoma. In 2001, she joined her husband, Doug Bradley, a math, science, physical education teacher and track coach, at Kenilworth.

Those are the facts. What happened in the past 32 years sometimes sounds more like fiction, but it is all true, just ask the hundreds of near teens and just teens she has taught, inspired and nurtured.

Teaching junior high school kids is not the favorite professional position of many educators, but it is exciting for Bradley.

“I love the junior high kids because you always know where you stand with them,” she explains. “They are very logical kids once you win them over. They are very passionate about what they do and they are very responsible.”

She says working toward her Masters Degree at Sonoma State helped her development as a teacher in many ways, including encouraging her to challenge herself to try new and innovative teaching methods.

She was one of the first in the area to see how technology could be applied in the classroom.

One of her first innovations was to challenge each of her eighth-grade English students to write a complete novel in a month using the NANoWriMo program.

To make that program work, the students needed more access to computers than they had in the school’s one computer lab. What they needed were computers in their own classroom.

That led Bradley to write her first grant, a request to the Petaluma Educational Foundation for $15,000 to buy enough laptop computers for half her class. The next year, came a grant request to cover the cost of computers for the other half of the class.

“We are so fortunate to have PEF,” she says. “They have meant so much to our schools.”

Since her original grants, she has also received PEF grants for a WeatherBug station, a 3D printer for the school’s Maker Space in the library, and one for lapel microphones for the school’s television station KTV, another Bradley innovation.

That station exists because Bradley, in conjunction with fellow Kenilworth Junior High School teacher Isaac Raya and principal Emily Dunnigan, successsfully wrote a $20,000 Educator Innovator Challenge Grant.

“Once we had the computers in the room every day I could explore the potential for their use,” Bradley says. Today, every student in the Petaluma City Schools District has his or her own school iPad bought by the district.

Since bringing computers into her classroom, Bradley has continued to expand their use, and today teaches a digital media class that allows students to choose their own projects from a large menu created by the teacher.

Students have an opportunity to choose projects ranging from animation to games, to stories, to computer coding - all using programs and instructions from the teacher’s program menu.

Bradley and Raya have worked together to develop a complete a student-run television station with students producing a daily morning newscast with every aspect of the program handled by students.

This year, the production, now an official class, moved into a new “studio,” after Bradley’s husband and son spent the summer renovating a vacant classroom.

Bradley’s dedication and innovations have not gone unnoticed.

In 2015, she was one of 10 teachers from around the nation to win an Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Award from The Henry Ford and Litton Entertainment.

The award honors teachers who “demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness, who approach teaching and learning creatively, and who are using the classroom to inspire innovation, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.”

While Bradley was in Detroit to accept the Teacher Innovator award she, and the other recipients, toured the Henry Ford Museum, the Benson Ford Research Center and the Greenfield Village – all featuring American innovations.

She has attended Google Teacher Academy (now called Google Certified Innovator) and is a contributor to Edutopia, a creation of the George Lucas Educational Foundation that allows teachers to share online information and innovations in teacher development and technology integration in education.

Bradley emphasizes that her innovations and accomplishments are not hers alone. “Where I am now is the result of professional opportunities and great mentors,” she says.

In her blog Bradley wrote, “I have not become the teacher I am today without the help, encouragement, mentoring and resources of others. And I was reminded that too many teachers don’t get what they need to support their growth as effective educators.”

Among the educators Bradley acknowledged in her blog were what she tabled as “master teachers,” Joan Price and Mary Jackson who mentored her during her student teaching, along with Carol Treu and Ana Byerly who helped as she was starting her teaching career.

She expressed her gratitude to supportive principals Marilyn Kelly during her time at Altimira and Dave Rose and Emily Dunnagan at Kennilworth, and noted that her innovations would not have been possible without the support and autonomy that Rose and Dunnagan allowed her at Kenilworth.

She mentioned the important lessons she learned while studying for her master’s degree at Sonoma State under the direction of Dr. Jessica Parker and the experience she had at the Bay Area Writing Project Summer Institute under the guidance of Greta Vollmer.

She explained the importance of collaboration with other teachers and expressed gratitude for the collaboration of the Sonoma County Teacher of the Year Raya in developing KTV and its daily news show.

Although their two children - Chloe, 24, and a graduate student and Duncan, 22, who will graduate college in May - are no longer at home, Bradley and her husband don’t have a lot of free time.

“We work a lot of weekends,” Laura says. When they do have the time, they like to experience things close to home.

“We love Petaluma and spend a lot of time enjoying the great restaurants, theater and live shows. We never need to leave town,”she explains.

When they do slip away, it is usually to hike, an activity they both enjoy.

(Contact John Jackson at

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