Written by Barbara Johnson
Just being on the beautiful campus of Fordham University at Rose Hill evokes lofty thoughts of academia. It was there that educators gathered to hear Dr. William Baker’s inspiring keynote speech “Leading with Kindness”. In this Fordham PDRC Summer Institute session on August 18 his powerful words set the stage for a panel of four distinctive school leaders to share planning priorities for the new school year before an audience of educators.
These leaders represented very different types of schools, yet their ultimate goals are similar. At the table were William Lessa, Principal of Cardinal Hayes High School, a large Catholic boys’ school in the South Bronx and Panagiota Lilikaki, Assistant Principal of A. Fantis School, a Greek elementary school in Brooklyn. Joining them were Kevin Boyd, Principal of Theresa Paplin School, a live-in school in Queens for special education students from 10 to 21 years old, Dr. Khadijah Jean Pryce, Principal of the Islamic Cultural Center School in Manhattan for children from 3 years old to 8th graders, and Marie O’Shea, founding Academic Dean of the new St. Catharine Academy Middle School for girls in the Bronx.
All extraordinarily experienced educators and administrators, the panelists addressed the question “What Matters Most?”, generously and frankly sharing messages of hope, challenges, and successes. This might seem an apt topic for any August, but this time was unlike any other because it follows several years of extreme, unexpected obstacles brought on by the pandemic. Ignited by Dr. Baker’s encouraging words, there was no shortage of optimism in the air. The panel’s answers reflected moving forward with positivity, verve and understanding.
Ms. O’Shea promoted setting a positive tone from the first day and maintaining high teacher morale. The panelists recognized that, at every level, concern over scheduling can often cause stress as teachers and administrators handle many demands on their time while assuring high quality curricula. Keeping morale high must be a priority. Dr. Pryce underscored the importance of an informed, active, support staff.
Planning professional development for the year and initiating it early is a priority in progress toward goals. Offering rich content, it can also be a unifying factor for the faculty. Opportunities for faculty to participate in professional development were cited as particularly valuable. That is easier to fulfill with more in-person and virtual training and forums available. Fordham PDRC provides multiple sessions on many topics for administrators and faculty throughout the year. Among topics mentioned by the panel and a highly engaged audience during Q & A were social and emotional learning, differentiated instruction, time management and staff retention.
Mr. Boyd reiterated the importance of retaining good teachers and described his successful efforts to secure raises for them. Dr. Pryce advised realistic expectations about the suitability of teachers for their jobs and suggested new teachers initially make a firm, full commitment to the job for the first year.
That job will surely include innovative teaching methods, project-based and collaborative learning, lauded by all. Students are often asked to propose solutions to real-world problems, helping create dynamic classrooms that invigorate students and teachers.
The home-school connection is an essential focus, as all these schools continually make boosting family engagement a priority, too. Ms. Lilikaki emphasized that including families all year helps perpetuate the happy atmosphere of her school, a joyful learning environment.
Sharing experience, expertise and optimism, all panelists enriched the conversation, enlightening and exciting all present about the coming school year.