What impacts student learning? Teachers, school leaders, counselors, parent-school partnerships. Access to quality books and materials, curriculum.
And seemingly mundane things. Like air conditioners.
NYC Mayor DiBlasio introduced an initiative to put an air conditioner in every NYC classroom by 2022. Next week, our school is getting eight new air conditioners funded by the city. (Thank you Mayor!)
However, since summer, when the city surveyed our school, several more ACs had broken. I decided to replace these ACs from our school budget before Spring when classrooms would get hot.
This week, schools were closed. My assistant principal Yan Wang and I came in for a day to catch up on work, which included buying the air conditioners.
To install ACs in a school, several things need to happen: our custodian does a survey of the classrooms, measuring windows, recording voltage. We send the survey to the AC company, which sends us a quote. Then we get approval from the Department of Education to install the ACs (in a huge system like NYC, there is actually an AC Request Team that handles these requests).
As soon as I walked into Yan’s office that morning, I saw, Mr. Molloy, our custodian, handing Yan a neatly filled out classroom survey. Yan had given him the survey first-thing, and he had completed it immediately. I thanked them for putting urgency on the task.
The day continued to pass on uneventfully. As I worked, I saw volleys of emails pop up between Yan and others related to the ACs. I was impressed by how quickly she got responses and then completed each next step so that within a day, we had the approval to get the ACs.
There is nothing glamorous about electrical voltage surveys, or appliance quotes, or installation approval. These are tasks that happen behind the scenes and often go unrecognized.
Yet completion of these tasks is hugely impactful. This summer, I observed two math classrooms. In one, students seemed tired, wilted, unmotivated. In the other, students were active, alert, engaged. The teachers were teaching similar lessons in a similar manner. The difference? ACs. One classroom’s AC was broken, the other was working on full blast.
We often talk about the difference that instruction and high expectations make on opportunity gaps. The behind-the-scenes work of running a school is also part of narrowing those gaps. Responding to emails like they matter, and doing things quickly, correctly, and completely, is enormously impactful for kids.
In terms of the ACs, I was inspired by each person who had done their job with timeliness and urgency: Yan, the custodian, the AC company, the AC Request Unit. Each person probably didn’t know what a difference they were making for kids. They didn’t know that in each task and each quick response, they were saying, “Your school matters. Your teachers matter. Your students matter.”
*In the NYC public school purchasing system, each item has a particular “object code” to ensure that items are purchased with the correct funds.