First Person

Cultivating The Next Generation Of School Leaders

One of the Bloomberg administration’s first big education policy moves was to create a fast-track principal training program that in its early years recruited heavily from outside the school system. Now, in the administration’s final year, that program — which drew fierce criticism and produced mixed results — is smaller and the Department of Education is investing in programs to develop potential principals from within the city’s teaching corps. Here, the department’s chief academic officer explains why the department is looking inside itself for future school leaders.

On a Wednesday afternoon late last month, Serapha Cruz, the principal of the Bronx School of Young Leaders, was in her building on Tremont Avenue, meeting with teacher teams and preparing for the following day.

And yet, in a way, she was also at West Prep Academy, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan; Bronx Park Middle School, in Bronxwood; and the Urban Assembly School of Civic Engagement, in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. The leaders of these three other schools all served as staff members or principals-in-training under Cruz — a dynamic principal who has worked relentlessly with her team to turn around her school — before becoming principals themselves.

Throughout New York City’s public schools, many more prospective principals are in the leadership pipeline. They come from Cruz’s school — she has an aspiring principal interning this year with her, and I met two of Cruz’s current teachers that Wednesday afternoon at the kick-off event for the inaugural cohort of the Teacher Leadership Program — and from schools across the city.

In recognition of the critical role the school leader plays in determining a school’s success, the department has long offered potential school leaders several options for principal preparation programs, which typically provide intensive support in the year immediately before an apprentice becomes a principal. More recently, in order to increase the supply of high-quality candidates for the roughly 150 principal positions we must fill each year, the department has launched several initiatives aimed at developing the leadership capacity of our most effective teachers. By engaging strong educators early in their careers, we can cultivate their leadership skills as they take their first steps toward school leadership.

Take TLP as an example. The program is targeted at teachers already serving in leadership roles — such as department chair — and convening them regularly through a series of workshops led by strong principals and other leaders. Between sessions, back in their schools, teacher leaders will practice observing classrooms and providing feedback to improve their colleagues’ practice. They will evaluate instructional materials for alignment to the Common Core standards. And they will lead teams of fellow teachers to examine their students’ work, guiding discussions about how to adjust teaching in response to student needs.

The fact that the 250 teachers in TLP this year represent just a quarter of our nearly 1,000 applicants is a testament to our teachers’ widespread interest in developing these leadership skills.

We know that many TLP participants may decide to continue in their teacher leadership roles, now strengthened by the skills they have gained in the program, for years to come. But our hope is that some successful graduates will go on to become the next generation of excellent New York City school leaders by moving on to one of our key principal preparation programs next year or in the future. This year, with support from the Wallace Foundation, our expanding group of partner programs includes not just the Leadership Academy, LEAP (the Leaders in Education Apprenticeship Program), and New Leaders’ Aspiring Principal Program, but also three university-based education leadership programs — Bank Street Principals Institute, Teachers College Summer Principals Academy, and CUNY’s Baruch College — whose leaders have committed to grounding their work in partnerships with our schools. Across all of these partner programs, this year nearly 150 assistant principals and teacher leaders are in training to become New York City principals.

Our work to develop a strong leadership pipeline dates to 2003, when the NYC Leadership Academy launched and began to lay the foundation to address the city’s longstanding need to better recruit, prepare, and support principals. The Leadership Academy created that foundation, particularly for the system’s highest-need schools; today, nearly one in six principals in the city is a graduate of the academy’s Aspiring Principals Program, which now serves as a national model for school leader preparation and has been replicated in a number of other districts. It also continues to serve as a critical partner in our leadership work providing training to teacher leaders, aspiring principals and sitting principals across the system.

While principals are never eager to see some of their strongest educators leave their school, they understand that these leadership development programs can be mutually beneficial and ultimately serve the greater good. Principal Cruz says that her current staff members have been inspired by the development of their former colleagues, and many educators are now discussing possible leadership roles during their regular goal-setting conversations. Plus, Cruz is in touch often with Dillon Prime, the new principal at Bronx Park, and Roberto Padilla, the principal at West Prep. For the Nov. 6 professional development day, the three principals shared resources on providing quality feedback to students and collecting assessment data.

“I believe in developing people to work in other places, and it ends up making all of our jobs easier if we’re putting quality people in these positions,” Cruz told me. “Dillon and Roberto are getting fresh ideas from other people and other places and bringing them back to our conversations, so their development benefits me, too.”

First Person

To close out teacher appreciation week, meet the educators whose voices help shape the education conversation

From designing puzzles to get kids fired up about French to being christened “school mama” by students, teachers go above and beyond to make a difference. Chalkbeat is honored to celebrate Teacher Appreciation week with stories of the innovation, determination, and patience it takes to teach.  
Check out a few of the educator perspectives below and submit your own here.

  1. First Person: When talking about race in classrooms, disagreement is OK — hatred is not by David McGuire, principal at Tindley Accelerated Schools and previously a teacher in Pike Township. McGuire is also a co-founder of a group called Educate ME.  
  2. First Person: What my Bronx students think about passing through scanners at school by Christine Montera, a teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future in the Bronx. She is also a member of Educators 4 Excellence-New York.  
  3. First Person: What 100 ninth graders told me about why they don’t read by Jarred Amato, High School English teacher and founder of ProjectLITCommunity.
  4. This fourth-grade teacher doesn’t take away recess or use points to manage the class. Instead she’s built a culture of respect by Liz Fitzgerald, a fourth-grade teacher at Sagebrush Elementary and Colorado Teaching Policy fellow.
  5. First Person: Why I decided to come out to my second-grade students by Michael Patrick a second grade teacher at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary.
  6. Meet the teacher who helped organize the Women’s March on Denver, a profile of Cheetah McClellan, Lead Math Fellow at Denver Public Schools.
  7. First Person: At my school, we let students group themselves by race to talk about race — and it works, by Dave Mortimer, and educator at Bank Street School for Children.
  8. What Trump’s inauguration means for one undocumented Nashville student-turned-teacher a profile of Carlos Ruiz, a Spanish teacher at STRIVE Prep Excel and Teach for America fellow.
  9. First Person: ‘I was the kid who didn’t speak English’ by Mariangely Solis Cervera, the founding Spanish teacher at Achievement First East Brooklyn High School.
  10. First Person: Why recruiting more men of color isn’t enough to solve our teacher diversity problem by Beau Lancaster, a student advocate at the Harlem Children’s Zone and  Global Kids trainer teaching, writing, and developing a civic engagement and emotional development curriculum.
  11. Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message a profile of Eric Eisenstad, physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School.
  12. First Person: How teachers should navigate the classroom debate during a polarizing election year  by Kent Willmann, an instructor at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. He previously taught high school social studies in Longmont for 32 years.
  13. First Person: I teach students of color, and I see fear every day. Our job now is to model bravery by Rousseau Mieze, a history teacher at Achievement First Bushwick charter middle school.
  14. Pumpkin pie with a side of exhaustion: Why late fall is such a tough time to be a teacher by Amanda Gonzales, a high school special education teacher in Commerce City, Colorado.
  15. This teacher was a ‘class terrorist’ as a child. Now he uses that to understand his students by Andrew Pillow a technology and social issues teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle.
  16. What this teacher learned when her discipline system went awry — for all the right reasons by Trilce Marquez, a fourth-grade teacher at P.S. 11 in Chelsea.
  17. Here’s what one Tennessee teacher will be listening for in Haslam’s State of the State address by Erin Glenn, a U.S. history teacher at East Lake Academy of Fine Arts and Tennessee Educator Fellow with the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
  18. An earth science teacher talks about the lesson that’s a point of pride — and pain a profile of Cheryl Mosier, a science teacher at Columbine High School.
  19. A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business by Shanna Peeples, secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.
  20. How this teacher went from so nervous her “voice was cracking” to a policy advocate by Jean Russell, a literacy coach at Haverhill Elementary School,  2016 Indiana Teacher of the Year and TeachPlus statewide policy fellow.

First Person

I’m a black man raised on the mistaken idea that education could keep me safe. Here’s what I teach my students in the age of Jordan Edwards

The author, Fredrick Scott Salyers.

This piece is presented in partnership with The Marshall Project

I worry a lot about the students in the high school where I teach. One, in particular, is bright but struggles in class. He rarely ever smiles and he acts out, going so far recently as to threaten another teacher. As a black, male teacher — one of too few in the profession — I feel especially compelled to help this young black man reach his potential. Part of that work is teaching him the dangers that might exist for him, including the police.

The killing of Texas teenager Jordan Edwards proves, though, that it’s not just black boys with behavior issues who are in danger. Jordan — a high school freshman, star athlete and honor student — was shot dead by a police officer last month while leaving a house party. As he rode away from the party in a car driven by his older brother, officers who’d been called to the scene fired multiple rifle rounds at the car. One bullet went through the passenger window, striking Jordan in the head. Murder charges have since been filed against the officer who fired the fatal shot.

It’s a near impossible task to educate black children in a society that constantly interrupts that work with such violence. Still, it’s incumbent on educators like me to guide our students through the moment we’re living in — even when we can’t answer all their questions, and even if we’re sometimes confused ourselves.

I began teaching in 2014, the year the police killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice dominated headlines. The tragedies have piled on, a new one seeming to occur every month since I first stepped into a classroom. I currently teach ninth-graders at a predominantly black charter school in Brooklyn, and I often find myself struggling to make sense of the events for my students.

I’ve shown them clips from popular films like “Selma” and “Fruitvale Station” and prepared lessons on the civil rights movement, and I’ve done my best to ground it all in the subjects I was hired to teach — American history, composition, and college readiness. My hope is that these films will encourage my students to connect today’s police violence to our nation’s history of racial injustice. And, because there are no easy answers, they’ll simply be encouraged by the perseverance of those who came before them.

I can’t help but worry I’m sending them mixed messages, however, teaching them lessons on resistance while also policing their conduct day to day. As an administrator and one of few black male teachers in my school, I’m often charged with disciplining students. I find myself having a familiar talk with many of them: “get good grades,” “respect authority,” “keep your nose clean.”

It’s instruction and advice that can feel pointless when a “good kid” like Jordan Edwards can have his life cut short by those sworn to serve and protect him. Still, I try in hopes that good grades and polite behavior will insulate my students from some of society’s dangers, if not all of them.

The Monday after police killed Edwards, I asked the students in my college readiness class to watch a news clip about the shooting and write out their feelings, or sit in silence and reflect. Many of them were already aware of what happened. I was proud that so many of them were abreast of the news but saddened by their reflections. At just 14 and 15 years old, many of them have already come to accept deaths like Jordan’s as the norm, and readily expect that any one of them could be next. “Will this police officer even be fired?” one asked. “Was the cop white?”

The young man I worry about the most was more talkative than usual that day. During the class discussion, he shared his guilt of being the only one of his friends who “made it” — making it meaning being alive, still, and free. The guilt sometimes cripples him, he said, and high-profile police killings like Jordan’s compound that guilt with a feeling of hopelessness. They make him think he will die in the streets one way or another.

I didn’t know what to say then, and I still don’t have a response for him. I’ve always taught students that earning an education might exempt them from the perils of being black in America, or at least give them a chance at something more. I was raised on that notion and believed it so much that I became an educator. But deaths like Jordan’s leave me choking on the reality that nothing I can teach will shield my students from becoming the next hashtag.

In lieu of protection, I offer what I can. I provide a space for my students to express their feelings. I offer love and consideration in our day-to-day interactions and do my best to make them feel seen and, hopefully, safe for a few hours each day.

Fredrick Scott Salyers teaches at a charter high school in Brooklyn. He began his career in education as a resident director at Morehouse College. Find more of his work here.