In a Meet & Greet arranged by the Baldwin School District at the Middle School last night, parents and community stakeholders had an opportunity to meet the newly hired BHS principal and ask her questions. Below is more or less what transcribed during the one hour meeting:
Caterina Lafergola - hired as principal of BHS. 17th year as an educator - started as a HS English Teacher - worked her way up to principal step by step (Teacher, department chairperson etc...) Was hired and then placed into Automotive HS (how NYC does it). School was already failing and she was tasked with turning it around.
Her Philosophy - Educators work in the service of children. Making students believe and feel the school is there and they have a voice in their school (Teachers also have a voice in their school and be lifelong learners so that students will become lifelong learners).
Q - How do you measure your success - metrically?
Automotive was one of the most dangerous schools - during my leadership it was taken off the "impact list." This year taken off the "priority list." Attendance improved and graduation rate improved, but not as much as we would have liked. No more gangs or drugs at the school. Children are happy to come to school. Prior to Automotive was English chair in Valley Stream (I think Valley Stream Central HS - correct me if I am wrong). I am an instructional leader I know how to move students and I know how to move teachers. I am also good at helping people social-emotionally
Q - What is your vision for Baldwin?
I have to be in the school to see what is needed. On a superficial level - attended award ceremony and was impressed by how the students articulated how their past teachers has impacted them. I also learned there is a strong competent staff to produce students of that caliber. I want to be a strong, visual presence in the high school. There is concern about morale and school spirit. I think that is easily fixed by being part of the school community and engaging and coming up with a collaborative plans.
Q - What is the research you did to learn about Baldwin?
Looked at school report card, programs offered, what I could find online. That research is never indicative - data without context does not always tell us much. I wondered how many students are involved in programs like AP, which ones, is there equity?
Q - Why did you want to leave Automotive?
Systems in NYC make it difficult for those who are trying to do the work with students. I did not want to be an educator who is disenfranchised with education and the climate of NYC was making that difficult.
Q - What is your philosophy on parent communication/social media?
Needs to be transparent between parents and educators. Did a monthly coffee talk, newsletters. Gets to school early and leaves late. Has open door policy. Not particularly a proponent of social media - not familiar with district policy on it.
Q - How important are fine and performing arts?
Just as important as sports. Art and music help develop critical thinking skills necessary for common core engages those kids who are not engaged by academics.
Q - Tell about the "Regent grade changing scandal?"
I am going to be flip here - If I was going to fix grades, I would not do it for 27%. There have been "appeals to graduate" which is allowable by NYS law.
Q - What is your plan to increase parent involvement?
Ladies on booster club shared that they wanted to have Fri night dinners for football team, but said they found the school system was difficult to navigate around in order to do it. That's an easy fix. First I will find out who wants what - I would send out a survey to parents. Speaks three languages - English, Spanish, and Italian. Camhi asked Ed Ramirez (Director of Athletics) to share a story Ms. L spoke briefly to a student when she visited BHS who transferred to Baldwin from Automotive. This student later told his Baldwin teachers that he liked her and felt she turned things around there. He said, "She doesn't play."
Q - What are your priorities at Baldwin?
To learn and get to know as many families as I can. There is a concern that current principal was not a presence in the building. That will change. They will feel the support of the principal. I will have a student advisory committee. There will be a more concrete plan midway through the year and I will share that with you.
Dr. Camhi - Here is a something that is out there in social media - Are you a racist?
Was charged with 14 counts of racism and they were all thrown out. If I was a racist, Automotive HS would have been shut down.
Q - Why do you think you are qualified to come from a place like Automotive to Baldwin?
Automotive was just 5 years out of my career. I worked at a place where 100% graduated and went to college (not as principal).
Q - Why did the enrollment go down?
Enrollment in NYC is an interesting thing. In 2011 864 on register 400 active students Enrollment has not declined but actually increased in my time.
Dr. Camhi - Enrollment in NYC is parent choice
Ms. L - If your register has false numbers, it does not come off the "report."
Q - Our students do not need cleaning up - just polishing. How will you accommodate that?
I can support student growth and I can also help students who aren't academically inclined.
Dr. Camhi - we identified "yes candidates" (deciding who to interview) as people we thought could take us from great to excellent. Interview process was tough. We had parents asking questions on the committee. Candidates had to complete an action plan for BHS. We checked references they gave us and also references they did not give us. Looking for deep answers to deep questions. Gave an "on demand" writing sample (evaluating a videotaped lesson). Then the Board interviewed her.
Audience Member Comment - She hasn't gone deeper with us and given an action plan for Baldwin.
Q - If you are not successful, we are losers too. Do you have a methodology?
What I need to do is look at data - attendance, programs, teacher's files, transcripts and identify where students are not succeeding and then make a plan. I will be observing classrooms everyday and look at student work and plan how to move them ahead. Instructional leaders make plans after identifying patterns. It would be disrespectful to the school to make a full plan before getting to know the school.
Q - What is your experience with special needs students/inclusion?
33% students with disabilities at Automotive. I am knowledgeable about using multiple entry points for instruction. The standard of excellence must be the same for every student - the way of getting them there will be different (More scaffolding and support). I have tried to eliminate self contained classes in the past because research shows more success can occur for students in inclusion.
Q - How can you help the culture so all kids have a classroom where they can focus and experience respect and intentional learning?
I believe the playing field is equal and I will create a sense of community in the school. I will find out from kids what they think is working and not working in the school and pair it with quantitative data to see what is going on. I want the kids who don't have a place to find a place.