What better way to learn about a school than to meet the principal? That is what SchoolBook had in mind when it sent out a questionnaire to every principal in the public school system, offering them the opportunity to tell parents and the greater community about their schools. The results, lightly edited, are published on the schools’ pages, which were created by SchoolBook for every public, private and parochial school in New York City.
The principals who responded opened a revealing window on daily life at city schools. In answers to the 10 questions, they provided rich details about curriculum, the qualifications they look for when they hire teachers, and the expectations and aspirations they have for students.
Describing a typical day, principals told of early-morning tutoring, and time set aside for stories read aloud or sustained silent reading.
“Come visit the Continents, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, the Vikings, the revolution and Westward Expansion as all of our students, Pre-K-Grade 5, explore the Core Knowledge curriculum in History and Geography and Sayings and Phrases,” wrote Lisa Esposito of P.S. 203 Floyd Bennett in Brooklyn.
At one school, there was even a lesson to be learned between classes.
“When students walk in the halls they are quiet and reminded to be respectful of others that are learning,” wrote Laura Pessutti of P.S. 28, the Thomas Emanuel Early Childhood Center in Queens. “There are signals for silent ‘hellos’ and ‘cheers.’’’
Principals in disadvantaged neighborhoods were candid about the challenges they faced.
“My school is located in a neighborhood with four domestic violence shelters,” wrote Fabayo McIntosh of Brighter Choice Community School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “Many of our students come to school having witnessed horrible abuse. We educate students while helping to put their lives in order.”
“Adolescence is not easy,” wrote Elaine Schwartz, the principal of M.S. 243 in Manhattan.
“These children are struggling with puberty and new emotions, and they are desperate for peer approval and acceptance. Each child has an adviser to provide a caring relationship to nurture this uneven growth.”
In descriptions of special traditions and programs, principals told of multicultural festivals, parades, theater productions, choral concerts and dance shows. These special days draw crowds from the neighborhood, many principals said, and contribute to a sense of community.
“Our drama teacher is an actress and director!” wrote Josephine Marsella of P.S. 212 Lady Deborah Moody in Brooklyn. “Our performances are amazing and, we believe, worthy of Broadway!”
The importance of service to others was a theme that ran through the remarks of several middle school and high school principals.
“Even though we are a school within which 90 percent of our population qualify for free or reduced lunch, our students under the direction of our guidance team find time and energy to collect money and help others,” wrote Margie Baker of Ebbets Field Middle School in Brooklyn.
A question about what the school needed most evoked a number of requests for a rooftop garden, or technology like laptops, iPads and a faster wireless network. Mary Theresa Nelson, principal of P.S. 236 Mill Basin, Brooklyn, wrote, “We do not have funds, and with budgets the way they are P.S. 236 will not have a music program next year!” There were also pleas for humbler improvements, like the renovation of aging student restrooms.
If you are a principal and would like to respond to SchoolBook’s questionnaire, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.