In Principal’s Office, a regular feature of SchoolBook, a city school principal is interviewed for insights into school management and the life of a school leader. What do you think makes a good principal? Join the conversation below.
Dominick D’Angelo decided about 10 years ago to make the switch: he left his post as a vice president at JP Morgan Chase to become an educator. After getting a master’s degree in education and working as a math teacher in two different public schools, he joined the city’s Leadership Academy for principal training. He has been the principal at I.S. 228 David A. Boody for the past six years.
But he didn’t leave the business world behind entirely because, he said in a recent interview, he sees running a school as a business, and the parents and students as customers. He is aggressive about seeking grant money and he wants his students to be competitive in the global economy, which is why the school has dual-language courses offered in Russian or Chinese. This interview was edited and condensed.
Introduce I.S. 228 for us.
We are a middle school grades six through eight with approximately 910 students. We’re moving up to about 1,000 students in the coming school year. We have a special magnet program for all students who like performing arts, probably the best, the number one instrumental music program in New York City. We have a full symphony orchestra, over 110 students playing together. We have a concert band, a jazz band. We have a chorus of over 100 students and a tremendous dance and visual arts program as well. So from the arts perspective, we’re probably, if not the number one, one of the top two middle schools that provide a tremendous art enrichment opportunity for all students.
We also have a strong academic program that complements our magnets that include science, computers, math, physical education, and creative writing. We have a championship chess team. We also have a special 21st century math program called School of One in its third year. It’s an individualized math program for all our students that have had major success. It’s an excellent choice for parents to send their most trusted, most valuable assets, their children to our school.
Many schools have to cut their arts and magnet programs. Your school stands out by still having them.
Absolutely. After college, I did 18 years of corporate. So I’m in my sixth year as a principal and we run this place like a business. It’s a very important business. The business is making the dream of every child become a reality. And we’re very strong financially because we’re able to get a lot of outside grant money. We have a grant writer on staff that helps.
NYC’s public schools lost a big amount of money due to a lack of a teacher evaluation deal. How will your school absorb potential budget cuts?
We’ll be able to manage. We’ve done it before. And we run a very tight ship here. We’re having significant growth in student enrollment each year. For the past two years, we’ve increased our enrollment by over 10 percent, which is very rare for a middle school in Brooklyn. We’re a Title I school, 84 percent free or reduced lunch, very diverse population. We’re also the first and only middle school to have a dual-language Russian program across probably the country. We also have a dual-language Chinese program, the first in Brooklyn for a middle school. So we adopt the philosophy, if you build it, they will come. The key is you have to attract the customers.
Given your business mindset, what is your approach towards hiring teachers?
Not only do I hire young staff, but I hire teachers with 25 years of experience. I want the best teachers and the best staff in front of my students. You have to have the quality of staff that really takes pride in their work and has the right attitude as far as being a team player and going above and beyond. It’s not about the adults, it’s about the students. So when you see someone who really supports the vision which is making children first and doing the right thing, that’s what makes you very attractive to D’Angelo here at District 21. It’s not just about the academics, math, ELA, it’s about making students very well-rounded, college ready, and beyond making them very powerful citizens, who really respect the idea of giving back to the community and being service-oriented.