School Culture

IMG_2349.JPGShared values help to keep a community working well.  This year, we have been working with our students to articulate ways that we want our school community to work. Students in each class came up with 3 or 4 statements about what they felt were important attributes for our school community.  These statements have been posted in the glass by the elevators for about a month.  

Kids shouldn’t surprise me anymore, but they always do.  I was surprised that there was so much overlap among the statements across the grades.  Kindergarteners through eighth graders all agreed that school is a place where we work to have respect for each other and we act safely because we value and have responsibility for our community. We have winnowed down the list students generated to create a set of community guidelines. 

Chargers Community Agreements: 

  • Walk quietly in hallways and stairs. 
  • Make thoughtful and safe choices. 
  • Be respectful to all. 
  • Contribute to the community.

We will be sharing these four rules with students this week and they will be posted in the hallways and other public spaces.  These are not new rules. We work every day to help the children work towards these goals.  Sometimes our community is more successful at following them than others.  That is to be expected and helping children to more consistently enact these rules is a huge amount of the work of public schooling. 

The goal of public education is not just to teach academics. It also includes teaching children to be citizens in a democracy and to learn to work with people who are different from them.  “Public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness: institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity” (Benjamin Barber, as cited in Why Public Education Must be Preserved.)  In public schools, we learn to be part of the public.  

We work to help all children achieve social, community goals through multiple ways. We strive to use personnel resources so that every child gets what s/he needs in the school community in terms of social learning in the same way that we structure for differentiated academic learning.  That means that the struggling child and the child who is more sophisticated in social skills are both supported. To achieve these goals:

  • I work with the PTA to be able to allocate the bulk of our school budget to staffing.  The generous support of families through the annual appeal, the auction, the Winter Carnival and other fund-raising events, allows me to hire staff to provide a range of supports to our students. For example, the PTA has funded 2 teaching assistants this year for our at capacity second grade classes.  
  • We have highly skilled paraprofessionals work alongside teachers in classes that are mandated to have additional support. 
  • Our guidance team, Rachel Goodman and Alisha Bennett, along with our Middle School Dean Mary Valentine, and outside consultants work in classrooms, with individual students, and to provide additional support to teachers on how to foster dialogue, help students reflect on their actions, and to make wise, safe choices.  
  • We infuse social emotional learning in to the classrooms throughout the year. In each grade, teachers engage with students in structured curricula on social-emotional learning. We also highlight special events throughout the year that focus on community and respect. February 9 through 12 is celebrated in New York City as Respect for All Week. This year, teachers will be working with the students on our rules around respect and safety. We will also be having a “door decorating contest” in which classes decorate class doors around themes of respect, kindness and justice.  This activity will allow students to engage in conversations around our rules and how we are members of a larger community.  
  • We follow NYC guidelines around behavioral consequences. The NYCDOE discipline code provides guidance to schools and families around protocols for disciplinary consequences.  In murky or challenging situations, I also have a tremendous, behind-the-scenes support network.  District 2 Superintendent Bonnie Laboy and Family Advocate Jennifer Greenblatt along with DOE special education and school climate experts help our faculty help our students. 

We have these supports in place because we know that all children are works in progress. While some children are more adept at self-regulation, they observe others who struggle with self-regulation and skills around expressing feelings and navigating social situations.  Our goal is to have a school where all children feel safe and valued.  This is a big task and it requires school, families and children to work together.  I am honored to work in a community that has such a shared vision of equity and respect.  In return, I work to make sure that parental feedback is valued and listened to.  In the end, we all share a commitment to public education and the success of our children.