Edna Brewer

School is renamed after Edna Brewer

Late principal beloved by teachers, pupils

By Ed Levitt
The Tribune

An Oakland school built in 1913 got a new name yesterday.

McChesney Junior High School officially was renamed the Edna M. Brewer Junior High School during ceremonies on the campus at 3748 13th Ave.

It marked only the second time in the history of Oakland Public Schools that a school has been named in honor of a woman.

The first was Camden Elementary School, renamed Sherman elementary School in 1931 in honor of Elisabeth Sherman, a teacher and principal.

But teachers, students and friends whose lives she enriched devoted the day to the memory of Edna M. Brewer, who served 14 years as principal of McChesney before her retirement in 1985.

"I knew Edna as a colleague and friend for 25 years, and one factor about her stood out -- shee loved people, especially young people," said David Swanson, former superintendent of Oakland Public Schools.

"She was spirited, positive and upbeat," he added. "But she also was strong-willed, and it was not uncommon to see her battle the central administration in behalf of her school and her kids -- and she was usually right."

Brewer's death in 1987 led to a drive to name her old school in her honor. She devoted three decades of her 67 years working as an educator in Oakland public schools.

An enthusiastic, energetic and popular administrator, she devised numerous programs to improve the academic performance of underachieving students and earned the Marcus A. Foster Distinguished Educator Award in 1985.

Jennie Alexander, who worked for Brewer for 11 years as a librarian at McChesney, said her former principal and "a delightful sense of humor. You could hear her laughter down the hall.

"She overflowed with energy, and she gave it all to her students and staff. She made our school one of the best in Oakland."

Emma Bailey, another former colleague, praised Brewer for her compassion. "She hired me to teach English to foreign students mostly from China, Vietnam and South America," she said.

"It turned out I was one of the youngest teachers, and I appreciated her fairness. I originally came from South Africa, but she made me feel like part of the group, more American than foreign. She showed me understanding. I stopped feeling like a foreigner."

Another teacher, susan myers, described Brewer as "warm and wonderful. She cared about everyone. I remember one day, while I was pregnant with my second child and ready to go on leave, I explained to her the programs I was passing along to my substitute.

"In the middle of our conversation, she stopped me and said, 'Just go home and take care of yourself. That's more important now than anything.' That was Edna, always showing a sensitivity for her students and staff. Her name rightfully belongs atop our school."