Terry Brenner believes she has "it."
"It" is what makes her at home as a middle school administrator.
"You can meet someone and you almost know immediately if they have 'it,'" the new Harvest Park Middle School principal said, her accent a reminder of her Midwestern roots. "And it's a number of things: it's the flexibility, it's what we call discipline with love and logic, you know? Being able to be strict, but loving and showing you care."
Whether she has acquired "it" or had it all along throughout her years in education, the quality has led her to her "dream job" in Pleasanton, she says.
"I have never felt at home so quickly," she said of her first months on the job.
Brenner, born and raised in Wisconsin, has been in the education world for over two decades, after a slight detour into accounting.
"And then early on I spent a lot of time in my mother-in-law's classroom and my sister's classroom volunteering, and realized I had made a wrong career choice," she said. "And so I went back to school for teaching, and then when my younger daughter began kindergarten, I began my first day as a teacher as well."
She taught fourth grade for one year, and then spent about 15 years as a middle school language arts teacher in the Racine Unified School District -- where she herself had attended from kindergarten all the way through high school. Brenner then briefly did a stint at the district's central office as interim English language arts supervisor, filling in for a woman on medical leave.
"So it gave me a semester to feel the job out, and I realized that I miss the kids so much, that this just was not for me," she said.
All set to return to the classroom, a week before the new school year, she received a call from the district office -- they wanted her to interview for a principal position at an elementary school.
"Lo and behold, I loved it," she said, adding that she decided to stay in administration. She would go on to serve as assistant principal at one of the district high schools for four years after that.
She wasn't planning on leaving her home state, but when her husband received a job offer in Seattle, she decided a weekend getaway to check out the new site wasn't a terrible thing -- especially amidst the 50-below Wisconsin winter.
"We fell in love with it. It was 60 degrees in February -- when it was 50-below by us, and 60 there," Brenner said. "We were right on the Sound; it was just so beautiful. And we realized that we wanted to set an example for our kids that there's more to life than Racine, Wisconsin."
Brenner and her husband have five children between them, all currently residing in Wisconsin.
In Seattle, she took a job as an assistant principal in the Edmonds School District, split between two high schools. The reality of what the split would entail didn't hit her until she began the commute -- it was no "flat Wisconsin where it's a zip down the road."
"I never had quality time in a building. I was constantly running between two buildings and a lot of time at the central office," she said.
It wasn't an ideal situation, so the second year, she took a directing principal job south of Seattle in the Highline District, until, two months in, an unexpected transfer of her husband's company brought them to California.
"That was always the goal, when we went out there," she said. "But we had no idea how fast this was going to happen." So in July 2017, they moved to Pleasanton.
Brenner worked in the Acalanes school district as a high school assistant principal until her "dream job" opened up. Now she's here.
Her first few days on the job were definitely memorable. Brenner's contract officially began July 1 -- two days later, a fire broke out at the Harvest Park library, temporarily shutting down campus-wide systems with it. But while a fire at the school library is not ideal, it showed her the "family" culture of the school, she said.
"It's so odd, because sometimes those type of situations -- I don't want to say tragedy, because this wasn't a tragedy, because there's going to be a good outcome," she said. "But those things sometimes bring people together faster."
An important pedagogical focus of hers is restorative justice, disciplinary practices which focus on helping students make amends, such as through guided conflict resolution circles.
"Sometimes when you just punish, it doesn't repair that relationship between the kids," Brenner said.
"So with restorative practices," she added, "the main purpose is that we come away ready to move on. It's a growth mindset type of experience for kids."
And Brenner is excited to bring her crafty side to campus. (She's already brought it to the Bay -- she took part in the Oakland A's campaign to celebrate their 50th anniversary with hand-painted statues of the team's elephant mascot "Stomper" now scattered throughout Oakland. "Color Vibes Stomper" outside the Pyeong Chang Tofu House on Telegraph Avenue bears her artistic handiwork.)
Harvest Park has seen a good deal of changing leadership in recent years -- the Valley Avenue campus has had seven principals or co-principals since the 2014-15 school year.
Brenner said she has been made aware of the turnover in "bits and pieces" over the past few months.
"But I think everybody wants to move forward in a direction where that's not going to be our focus," she said. "So the fact that there's pieces of it that I didn't know doesn't even bother me because what I love about this staff is they want to move forward."
"I think the No. 1 question that I was asked when I got here was, 'Are you here to stay?'" she continued. "And the answer is yes."
Brenner is paid an annual salary of $148,385. She attended University of Wisconsin, Parkside for her undergraduate studies, and earned a master's degree in education from Aurora University and a second master's in school leadership from National Louis University.