Tressa Overstreet, principal of Design Science Middle College High School.

The first of many: A principal’s passion for education

By VICTORIA CISNEROS, Student Writer

The walls of her office are filled with signs of empowerment and photos of her hugging students at graduation. College pennants hang above her bookcases with Fresno State right in the middle. Tressa Overstreet (1989, ’15), principal of Design Science Middle College High School, has a passion for education and works tirelessly to provide every student with access to post-secondary options.

While growing up, Tressa struggled with stability. Her family moved around a lot and school was her only refuge.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher because when I was young, the only normal time in my life was when I was at school…I always felt really safe and I knew I wanted to provide other young people with that same experience that I had.”

When Tressa came to Fresno State as a first-generation student, her heart found exactly what it was looking for — a home in the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, a husband who loved her, and friendships that would last a lifetime. College also brought challenges for Tressa that could have easily derailed her education.

“At some point I had to take on my younger brothers while I was in college and it never occurred to me I wouldn’t finish. I just knew that I would. And I had instructors who were really supportive of me. I feel like I got that encouragement right when I needed it.”

Tressa graduated with a degree in liberal studies and completed her credential program in 1989. Soon after, she landed her first teaching job at Fresno’s Wilson Elementary just after turning twenty-one-years-old.

In 2004, Tressa received a phone call about a school funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation called Design Science Middle College High School. The school partners with Fresno City College to serve “troubled kids who ha[ve] too much time on their hands, [and] need a strong, rigorous academic experience.” By the end of their four years, students will have completed the California high school A-G requirements and the CSU/UC general education transfer pattern, earning them both a high school diploma and an associate degree.

“The beauty of this little program is that it’s really geared for people who are first in their families. And when you’ve walked that walk, you understand the voice that tells you that you can’t do it. You understand what it’s like when a student shows up and they’re hungry.”

Since the beginning, Tressa’s role in the school has slowly evolved from English teacher to principal. In 2013, she decided to return to Fresno State to earn a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration.

“Going back and being in the Chancellor’s Fellowship program at Fresno State, I feel like really prepared me to lead my school in the direction it needed to go.”

Tressa truly believes in the power of education and fights to have the best for her students. She works hard to ensure that every student has access to post-secondary education no matter what challenges they might face.

“We have this really awesome little school. We outperform everyone in Fresno Unified. We outperform the state of California, and some of our kids are homeless. Some of our kids are foster youth, and about 49% go on to Fresno State.”

Alongside Fresno State, some of her students go on to universities like Penn State, MIT, and Princeton. When she thinks of the success of her students and what “an honor [it is] to serve at this school,” her eyes glisten with admiration and tears begin to fall.

“I think that moment when they dare to dream of what could be…Just that moment when they trust you to put their heart and soul on the line, and they trust you to be vulnerable, and they trust you to go, ‘Okay, here is my college application. I hope I’m good enough.’”

Tressa knows that every student is college material and that her role as an educator is only the beginning.

“…They’re pioneers and I get to be a part of their adventure.”

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