for a Day: Opening Eyes, Forging Bonds
the surface, PENCIL’s Principal for a Day (PFAD) program is straightforward:
bring a person from the business, entertainment or public service
world to interact with a New York City public school for a day.
But the results of these encounters are as complex as the people
involved and the schools they encounter.
was totally shocked and delighted by everything I saw that day,”
recounts Barbara Corcoran, founder and Chairman of the Corcoran
Group, New York’s leading residential agency that makes over $2
billion in annual sales, of PS 63 in the South Bronx. Corcoran’s
experience revealed to her a lot of her own stereotypes of New
York City public schools, in particular ones in that area.
Her experience embodies one of the two goals of the PFAD program.
“First, it gives people insight into the strengths and challenges
of the public schools,” explains Ruth Cohen, PENCIL’s executive
director. “When you multiply it, it has a large impact.” Over
1,000 people take part in the program that places a PFAD in every
single public school whose principal does not object. The second
goal is to set the scene for an ongoing relationship between the
PFAD and their school.
Dr. Emlyn Koster, president and CEO of the Liberty Science Center
in New Jersey, formed such a bond with Booker T. Washington Middle
School in Manhattan. The school has a focus on science, a quality
that Koster requested in his application. He found the respect
between the students and teachers to be refreshing. “I noticed
that the students were being addressed as ‘ladies and gentlemen,’”
he recalls. “I felt like it was a level playing field: They were
expected to be ‘ladies and gentlemen.’”
Like Corcoran, Koster was pleasantly surprised with his experience.
Instead of finding discipline problems, he encountered “so many
unhurried moments of individual student attention in such a dynamic
daily schedule,” he wrote in a thank you letter to the principal,
struck me how difficult the principal and teachers’ roles of playing
the role of not just educator, but parent, advisor and social
service provider,” says Benji Baer, Vice President of Public Relations
at Alliance Capital, one of the largest money management firms
in New York. She was a PFAD at PS 159 in the Bronx, a bilingual
The principal ran a good business, she says of Frances Rosenstein.
A good manager has a clear idea of responsibilities, maintains
an open dialogue between management and staff, and most importantly,
understands the job she is asking of her staff. “The fact that
Principal Rosenstein was a teacher is an asset,” explains Baer.
Baer certainly has formed a lasting bond with PS 159. Rosenstein
has come to Alliance to meet Baer’s sub-group of about 40 employees,
and they all are working on establishing a regular schedule where
Alliance employees will give a few days a year on a rotating schedule
at PS 159, exposing students to art, music, sports—whatever skill
they may have. She found that the kids did not get exposure to
things outside of the reading and math curriculum, and through
this collaboration she hopes to “open their eyes to the rest of
didn’t plan on letting the school into my heart,” says Corcoran.
But she did. Russell Simmons, Chairman and CEO of Rush Communications,
let the school into his heart through a different route: he was
a PFAD at August Martin High School in Jamaica, Queens, his alma
mater. “It was unbelievable, like walking into a time zone,” he
says. Nothing had changed since he graduated in 1975. “It reminded
me how great that school was. It gave me hope and reminded me
that there are good schools in the city.”
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
(212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of
the publisher. © 2001.