While working as a teacher near where she grew up, Bronx native Rachel Phillips knew she needed to do more to address the glaring systemic inequities she saw in the school system. To gain new leadership skills, she chose to go back to school to earn her master’s of science in education in leadership in mathematics education at Bank Street Graduate School of Education. After graduating in 2021, she took those new leadership skills and her experience working in the New York City school system to the state of Rhode Island, where she is now an assistant principal at a Providence School District elementary school. 

“Going back to school was the most profound learning experience I’ve ever had. It helped me to reflect on my own role as an educator and as a human being. It gave me hope and a strong belief in myself — that I have the tools to actually make a difference,” Phillips said. “The sense of support and community at Bank Street modeled what I needed to do as a leader. We would bring a problem of practice from our school and give each other feedback on how we could improve. This feedback was always in the form of a conversation. We pushed each other’s thinking, especially about cultural responsiveness. Even when there were moments of uncomfortability in learning, I was never embarrassed but rather motivated to become a better educator and grow as a person.”

“Getting a degree in leadership was transformative for me.” —Jeanette De Jesus

Research shows high-quality school leadership is second only to classroom instruction in the success of student learning, and school leaders have an important effect on creating and sustaining a positive school culture. To help increase the number of well-prepared, culturally responsive school leaders, Bank Street is expanding online access to its programs so experienced prekindergarten through 12th-grade educators across all 50 states can have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in educational leadership. 

Anthony Conelli is the chair of Bank Street’s educational leadership programs. “We view leaders as facilitators of learning,” he said. “Like all of our leadership programs, our expanded online offerings develop well-prepared leaders who are ready to build inclusive, equitable schools that can provide all students with a foundation for success in both school and in life.”

Bank Street’s historic learner-centered approach to teaching and learning combines the study of human development and education theory with sustained clinical practice in schools. The online programs retain the foundational components of Bank Street’s renowned preparation model while combining the convenience of online coursework and personalized fieldwork experiences.

With a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law, Jeanette De Jesus began her career as an attorney before switching careers and becoming a New York City Teaching Fellow. After earning her first master’s degree in education from Fordham, she worked as a public school teacher for 16 years before she completed Bank Street Graduate School of Education’s Progressive Leadership program in 2021. Now, as an inclusion instruction coach, De Jesus helps schools across the New York City area implement and maintain inclusive programming that supports special education services in the least restrictive environments. 

De Jesus, who grew up in public housing and dropped out of high school at one point, is inspired to advance as a leader so she can help dismantle the kinds of inequities she faced as a student. “I am proof that we have an opportunity through education to empower young people to change their lives,” she said. “And as a teacher, I realized that I needed to keep walking the walk. Getting a degree in leadership was transformative for me.” 

De Jesus discovered that leadership is not only about creating a collaborative and cohesive school culture and environment, but it’s also about cultivating other leaders. “In a public school system where justice and racial equity still remains very much at the surface level, I now know how to work to build safe spaces that support healthy social-emotional development not just for students, including the many children of color who may struggle emotionally and behaviorally, but also for our teachers,” she said.

At the core of Bank Street’s preparation model is building a relationship of trust between instructors and students, which allows aspiring leaders to explore, challenge, and refine their approach to leadership as they grow and develop throughout the program. This relationship mirrors the way the Bank Street approach encourages adults to work with children and models how leaders can successfully work with teachers, colleagues, and communities. 

For Carlos Velazquez, fond childhood memories of the safe and nurturing environments of his after-school programs in East Harlem became the inspiration for a community-based leadership career. A master’s degree in social work in 2007 from Syracuse University led to a position as chief program officer for the Boys’ Club of New York, and a second master’s degree in educational leadership from Bank Street encouraged him to do even more. As executive director of the New York City Police Athletic League, Velazquez oversees its network of after-school programs, organized sports, summer camps, teen centers, and Head Start programs, all of which foster understanding and productive relationships among police officers and community youth. He credits the leadership knowledge he attained at Bank Street for his confidence and expert leadership in the unique field of youth development.

Velazquez said, “Sometimes staff members feel like they have to be on the ground all the time. They see the needs of the youth in front of them and lose sight of the issues in the communities they serve that cause all of this need. Bank Street gave me better insight into how to merge the needs of both the youth and the teachers who serve the youth. By building strong programs and strong systems, I’ve learned that the effect I have on the adults who do the work is more impactful than anything I’ve done hands-on in the classroom. By training the next group of talented leaders, my impact on the community is even greater.”

Conelli credits the success of these leaders in education to Bank Street’s unique approach to leader preparation. 

“In addition to coursework, Bank Street graduate students learn to be leaders and to train other leaders through conversation, collaboration, and hands-on engagement with materials, ideas, and people,” he said. “Through fieldwork placements that are closely mentored, our students have the opportunity to practice being leaders on-site, securing ongoing feedback from mentor administrators and faculty advisors. They process what they are learning so they can integrate it into their practice.” 

“This approach produces confident, effective leaders who are able to model culturally responsive leadership to other community members as they collaborate, which can make a powerful difference,” Cornelli said. 

Upon program completion, students graduate from Bank Street’s leadership programs with:

  • A commitment to personal development. Students develop deep knowledge of child and adult development and a unique understanding of how they themselves and other individuals learn. Graduates learn to become thoughtful problem-solvers who can work collaboratively and respectfully with others while building critical thinking skills, courage, and confidence.
  • The tools and knowledge required for 21st century school leadership. Equipped with the observation, reflection, and communication skills needed to support teachers and their students, graduates become adept at community building and transforming schools to better meet the needs of students, families, and teachers. 
  • An ability to advance equitable and inclusive schools. Graduates become change agents and advocates for social justice and equity in education. Guided by a commitment to a culturally responsive approach to teaching and learning, aspiring leaders develop deep insight into how to best incorporate anti-racist teachings inside the classroom and how to build the school systems and structures that support school and career readiness for all students.

You can learn more about the nationally available online progressive leadership program at Bank Street Graduate School of Education here.

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