Laying the Foundation: An Interview with Brilla College Prep Middle School Principal Matthew Larsen

On the occasion of Brilla’s first-ever eighth grade graduation, I spoke with Brilla College Prep Middle School’s (BCPM) Founding Principal Matt Larsen. As a founding teacher who opened Brilla College Prep Elementary’s doors in 2013, Mr. Larsen has walked with these 66 scholars throughout their entire Brilla experience. From instructing them in fitness as first graders to handing them their diplomas as eighth graders, Mr. Larsen has guided them on their journey to become young men and women of good character and spirit.

Mr. Larsen himself has also grown over the years at Brilla. He came to Brilla fresh out of undergrad as a Teach For American corps member.  Eager to learn, Mr. Larsen was excited about joining a founding school and jumped right in as a kindergarten teacher. Working with co-teacher Zoranlly Burgos (who is now the Principal of Brilla Caritas Elementary School), Mr. Larsen developed the curriculum for a Bridge year, which is a transitional year between Kindergarten and first grade. “I realized then that I really liked the strategic side of school leadership.” By the end of his third year, Mr. Larsen was selected to be the Founding Principal of Brilla College Prep Middle School (BCPM). The following year, he completed the KIPP Fisher Fellowship Program and prepared to launch Brilla’s first middle school. He worked intensely to “soak in the Brilla model” by consulting families, observing classrooms, interviewing staff, and fostering student relationships. In the Fall of 2017, BCPM opened. Four years later, Mr. Larsen is seeing firsthand the fruits of his labors: 66 Brilla graduates who will go on to contribute to the wellbeing of their families and communities. In his words, the graduating eighth graders are “a group with a strong underlying sense of respect and dignity, of character. It’s inspiring to see because that character piece is really what distinguishes Brilla from other schools.” He continued, “There’s a lot of great schools in NYC, but at Brilla we are intentional about focusing on scholars’ holistic development. We think character development is just as important as their academic development.”

Brilla’s first-ever eighth grade graduation is particularly meaningful for Mr. Larsen because he too will say farewell to Brilla at the end of the school year. After eight years of service, Mr. Larsen is moving back to his home city of Chicago. “Brilla is like a family to me. The staff and families welcomed me into their community in 2013 and every year since. They’re what make leaving so hard,” he shared.  

Mr. Larsen is confident that BCPM will continue to thrive under the leadership of Ms. Kayla Scarborough. He explained, “With more than 20 years of education experience and two years as BCPM’s Assistant Principal, Ms. Scarborough is uniquely set up to take the school from good to great. I’m confident that she will continue to elevate all our practices and refine the high-school-readiness culture.”

Mr. Larson discusses a lesson with Ms. Scarborough.

Mr. Larsen hopes that Brilla has accomplished what it set out to do in 2013 and every year since: assist families in their task of “laying the foundation for scholars to lead flourishing lives.” We at Brilla are deeply grateful to Mr. Larsen for the foundation he has laid in our community and look forward to building upon it for years to come.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Schirripa is Special Projects Manager for the Brilla School Network. In her role, she assists the Executive Director in external communication and fundraising. She studied Mathematics and Philosophy at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Originally from Boston, MA, she enjoys spending time at the beach and watching the Red Sox. 

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