Student artwork from the High School of Language and Innovation
Zamir* was a 12th grade student, originally from Albania. He had come to New York with his older sister when he was in the 10th grade, and hadn’t seen his parents for almost 3 years. His sister did her best to support him, but didn’t seem prepared to manage a teenage boy. She also had her hands full with a toddler and work.
Zamir developed a habit of coming extremely late to school, if he came at all. My assistant principal Shira and I had a meeting with him. We tried the usual motivations: “What do you want to do after high school?” and “Think of going back to Albania and showing your parents your high school diploma.”
In the past, Zamir would respond, “Yeah,” or “OK,” but something was different this time. He spoke honestly: “Those things don’t motivate me,” he said. Continue reading
This past August, we celebrated our school’s highest graduation rate ever: 83%. For us, this was a triumph; the highest percentage before this point had been 74%. Other things looked good at the end of the year, too: our 9th graders had done well on their exams, attendance increased, and suspensions went down.
This school year, other things have looked promising as well: we started a “hallway countdown” that’s leading to kids getting to class faster, our school is cleaner, and the overall atmosphere seems brighter, more positive.
Yet, as I was bragging about my successes to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they said, “We’re hearing alarm bells when you say, ‘My 9th grade is in great shape.’ Continue reading
A class of 2019 graduate’s cap.
The High School of Language and Innovation was founded in 2011, and this year was our school’s fifth graduating class, the Class of 2019.
Each graduating class has been unique in its personality. They have different quirks and different gifts. As I planned my graduation speech, I thought, “What make this class special?”
Many answers came up, but one word kept rising above all others, a word I didn’t expect.
When I actually stood up to give my speech, I asked the graduates themselves: “What makes you unique as a class?” Continue reading
Student artwork at the High School of Language and Innovation.
The path to graduation is different for every student, and so is our approach.
For some kids, we race to keep up with them: they excel in every course, so we look for new opportunities and train teachers to lead advanced courses.
For other kids, it’s a matter of holding their hand: we offer extra tutoring and pair them up with classmates who can support them. We encourage them. Sometimes, these students need a lot of support in 9th and 10th grade, and then turn into great students by 12th grade.
Finally, there are a few kids we drag towards graduation. Often, these are students who are academically ready to enter college, but find ways of failing courses at the last minute. It might be the fear of change and leaving high school forever, or maybe just needing some attention. For example, a student who has passed all required exams and courses might do everything they can to fail their last semester of gym.
Jeetu, a 12th-grade boy, sat in my office, eager to talk.
“You’re the principal, so I can tell you anything, right?”
I was tickled by Jeetu’s question. A lot of kids might have the opposite thought: You’re the principal so let me choose my words carefully and make sure you don’t find out whatever I’m hiding.
Jeetu took New York State Regents exams* in January. I was meeting with every 12th grader who had taken exams and experienced at least one disappointment in failing an exam. Continue reading
My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.
As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”
However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.*
My school is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners. With recent events at the Mexican border, I have been thinking about the parents of my students and their journeys in coming to the United States with their children. This past week, I had the opportunity to speak with the father of Marcos. * Marcos is a student from Peru who came to the U.S. when he was in the 9th grade.
This past week, Marcos won an award for graduating seniors from the Bronx United Federation of Teachers. Marcos and 30 other students each won a laptop, a wireless printer and a backpack full of supplies, all to set them up for success in their first year of college. At the awards ceremony, I sat next to Marcos’s father and learned more about him. Continue reading
Our school is a school for newcomer immigrant students who are learning English for the first time. Lots of students struggle at the beginning, and passing state exams can be daunting. Despite hard work, many students fail exams the first time.
On top of all of that, they are teenagers, and sometimes they fail because they’re distracted and despite our best efforts, take longer to be fully engaged in school. This was the case for one of our students, Stiven.
Kids—and people in general—have a hunger to be of service. I’m reminded of this hunger on Martin Luther King, Jr Day.
I saw this hunger recently when I peered into a classroom at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon. It was almost an hour after school had ended when I would expect kids to be out eating pizza, or on their way home to play video games, or buried in SnapChat.
And yet, fifteen of our 12th graders were clustered around tables discussing a piece of text. Continue reading
Usman is an adorable 10th grader originally from Pakistan, smaller than the other kids. He has huge eyes, straight bangs, and a lopsided smile, and whenever he sees me, he waves and says, “Hi Principal!” He also has an older brother, Saad, in 11th grade who now barely attends school, and is inches away from becoming a Code 39.
A “Code 39” is the code schools use for a dropout. Back in the first two years of our school’s existence, I remember when Code 39 wasn’t a part of my vocabulary. Now, we have more Code 39s than we’d like. We’ve started to watch for early signs of Code 39s, as in the case of Usman at our after-school Thanksgiving Potluck. Continue reading