Sabrina Moore, a Black woman, stands in front of a class of fifth graders holding a worksheet listing goals for middle schoolers.
Dr. Sabrina “Bri” Moore, former OUSD principal and founder of 3Ls: Literacy, Leadership & Liberation, instructs a class at Madison Park Academy on Apr 19, 2023 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Amir Aziz

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, fifth graders at Madison Park Primary in East Oakland gathered in a classroom for an end-of-year pizza party. As they munched on Little Caesars and sipped Capri Suns, Sabrina Moore gave instructions about what they would be doing with the markers, stickers, and worksheets on their desks. 

They were creating vision boards, listing their goals for the sixth grade. Moore encouraged the students to look at their vision boards everyday to remind themselves of how to be successful in middle school. 

As the principal of Madison Park Primary from 2015 to 2021, Moore was in charge of the school’s overall operations. But now she has a different role. Moore is the founder of a literacy organization called 3Ls: Literacy, Leadership & Liberation. Her group doesn’t focus on any one class, school, or district. Instead Moore takes a whole neighborhood approach to strengthening literacy, offering help for students, teachers, principals, and families to support literacy education for students. Right now, 3Ls works in the Sobrante Park neighborhood, at Madison Park Primary and the 6-12 school, and nearby charter schools Aspire Lionel Wilson and Lodestar. 

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Fifth grade students at Madison Park Primary complete a vision board activity with Sabrina Moore, their former principal and the founder of 3Ls. Credit: Amir Aziz

“Everybody has to work together, and we have to be on one accord about this reading thing,” Moore said. “No matter what block you’re from in this neighborhood, 3Ls is a safe place. It’s the place where you can be vulnerable about not knowing how to teach reading, not knowing how to lead reading, not knowing how to read.”

Literacy is a major challenge in Oakland. During the 2021-2022 school year, just 36% of third graders, including district and charter schools, were reading on grade level, and about 35% of students in all grades read on grade level, according to state standardized tests. Ensuring strong readers by third grade is a priority in Oakland Unified and is part of the district’s three-year strategic plan. 

A former teacher and principal, Moore is driven by her own experiences growing up and attending schools in Oakland and Hayward. Throughout grade school, her teachers promised she would get extra help with reading, but she was promoted from grade to grade until she graduated in 1992, unable to read. 

“When you can’t read, you have tons of other skills that you develop,” she said. “Along my path, I’ve had people who’ve always moved for me—supporters and sponsors. But what about the kids who don’t?”

She got her first job at Arby’s through a church friend. Her manager at another job, an AT&T store, bought her a dictionary and books by Black authors to help her learn how to read.

The manager read with her everyday and encouraged her to highlight the words she didn’t recognize and look them up in the dictionary. Eventually, her manager started bringing Moore college applications to fill out. At Contra Costa College, one professor refused to let Moore fail her algebra class, giving her the extra help she needed to understand the material and pass. After earning her bachelor’s degree from California State University East Bay and teaching credential, Moore was hired at Parker Elementary in Oakland’s Eastmont neighborhood, where she was tasked with teaching her students how to read. 

“I was so invested in learning how to teach reading because I didn’t want any kid to experience what I was experiencing. Those babies were teaching me how to teach,” she said. 

After leading a school Moore decided to go all in on literacy education

In 2015, Moore became the principal of Madison Park Primary but she still had her sights set on how to improve literacy rates, not just in schools but also for the broader community, so she stepped down in 2021. 

Principal of Madison Park Academy Primary, Sabrina Moore outside of the school in Oakland, CA.
Then-principal Moore waves to a passing parent in the Sobrante Park neighborhood in 2021. Credit: Amir Aziz

During the 2022-2023 school year, the 3Ls worked with four schools and more than 2,000 students, offering one or more of the group’s trademark programs: Literacy Lab from Monday to Friday, where students in kindergarten to 2nd grade received virtual literacy tutoring after school, tune-up Tuesdays for teachers to gather and share skills, principal coaching for school leaders, homework club on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students in any grade, and the family reading club on Saturdays for parents and family members to learn reading strategies. The group also hosted a neighborhood block party at the end of the school year to celebrate the graduating readers. 

Shaoine Simmons has taught transitional kindergarten and kindergarten at Madison Park Primary for the last five years. She began her teaching career with an emergency teaching waiver, after a previous teacher unexpectedly left, and didn’t feel completely prepared to teach reading at first, she said. 

Through the professional development offered by Moore and 3Ls, Simmons came to understand the structured literacy approach to reading, which teaches students how to recognize letters, the sounds they make, and how to blend those sounds into syllables and full words and sentences. Understanding the science of reading helped her to become more confident in teaching it, she said. 

“For students, you’re seeing them more excited, you’re seeing their self-confidence increase,” she said. “It goes to other subjects too—in writing, you see kindergarteners spelling words phonetically based on the sounds they hear.”

Sixty percent of 3Ls students are at or above grade level in reading, and the other 40% have progressed at least one year in reading proficiency, Moore said. High-dosage tutoring, or tutoring that happens at least three times a week, exists in schools across Oakland as a way to help catch kids up from learning loss sustained due to COVID-19 school closures. 

Elaina Amos, the principal at Madison Park Primary who took over after Moore left, gets the principal training from 3Ls and the school also participates in the other programs the organization offers. She appreciates Moore’s strategies because they give her students additional literacy practice that they aren’t able to receive during the school day, and because of the family inclusion the programs provide, especially after a pandemic when families and students weren’t in school.

“It gets families really excited about learning about literacy and how they can help at home with their students,” Amos said. “3Ls’ goal is not to have an organization that makes the school dependent on them, but for them to create model systems so the school becomes independent and empowered to do the work themselves.”

Moore, who also works as a program director for the Alameda County Office of Education, said she wants to expand her work into deep East Oakland, serving schools like Korematsu Discovery Academy, Esperanza Elementary, REACH Academy, Cox Academy, and Elmhurst United, and West Oakland, which includes Prescott Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Hoover Elementary, KIPP Bridge Academy, and West Oakland Middle. 

“The community will own what literacy looks like in that community,” Moore said. “Principals and teachers will no longer feel like the four walls of the school keep them separate from the neighborhood. They will feel like they’re part of the neighborhood, just as much as the families believe it is their neighborhood.”

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.