As Superintendent of Oakland Military Institute College Preparatory Academy, Grell is committed to ensuring that other young people also find that path – even if their parents can’t afford private school education.
Founded in 2001 by Governor Jerry Brown when he was Mayor of Oakland, OMI is the first charter school ever sponsored by the state, the first public military school and the first school sponsored by the National Guard.
Serving inner-city youth in grades 6-12, the school provides a structured and rigorous academic program where students develop as scholars, leaders, critical thinkers and citizens. All students graduate having met University of California and California State University A-G requirements, and several of the school’s alumni have gone on to outstanding universities such as UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Yale and West Point.
Born and raised in Castro Valley, Grell attended Our Lady of Grace School before enrolling at O’Dowd, where she played volleyball and softball. She went on to St. Mary’s College, earning a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a teaching credential.
Grell began her professional career at Oakland’s St. Paschal Baylon School, teaching middle school Math and science, where she remained for six years until the school closed in 2001.
It wasn’t long before a St. Paschal colleague who had joined the OMI staff asked Grell if she would consider filling an unexpected opening for a sixth grade teacher at the school.
During her 14 years tenure at OMI, Grell earned her National Board Certification in English and taught middle school through 9th grade English and English as a second language, earned an administrative credential at Cal State East Bay, and served as principal for one year before being selected by the Board and Governor Brown as the school’s Superintendent.
In that role, Grell serves as both an academic leader and chief financial officer, overseeing a staff of 96, which includes OMI’s National Guard partners who head up the military science aspect of the curriculum. Because demand for an OMI education is so high, Grell is also helping lead efforts to expand the campus.
A New Educational Model
Grell said that Brown, who attended San Francisco’s St. Ignatius College Preparatory School and is a former Jesuit seminarian, wanted to mirror elements of Catholic school education in a public school setting. He felt the military model effectively incorporated community service and character building – two important aspects of faith-based learning.
This is one of the major reasons Grell has remained at OMI – the environment resonates with her personal educational experiences at Catholic schools, both as a student and a teacher.
OMI also offers families comprehensive support, including a restorative justice disciplinary program, mental health services and mindfulness programs.
While the OMI core curriculum is funded completely by the state, fundraising supports extras such as support services and sports. “We want to add football next year, so we have to raise the funds to support that,” Grell said.
The best part about her job, Grell says, is working with students and playing a part in setting them on a path for success.
“Success doesn’t necessarily depend on where you come from, or what skills you are born with, it depends on your passion and your commitment to be the best version of yourself,” Grell said. “What we are trying to do here is meet students where they are, give them the tools they need and offer them opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have so they can be that best version.”
The school’s motto “Age Quod Agis,” Latin for “Do well whatever you do,” reminds students of the importance of striving for excellence in their personal, academic and professional lives.
Grell recently had the opportunity to hire several OMI alumni that she taught when they were in middle school. “They are now paying their education forward,” she said. “That was one of the things that I loved most about my O’Dowd experience, that I had teachers who went to school there. We were all part of the same community.”
Grell and her husband, Alexander Grell, are the parents of Josephine a freshmen and, Cameron, a second grader.