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New York City
April 2002

Inside the Dean’s Office: Jon Snyder, Bank Street College of Education
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.

A friend who used to be a school director some years ago happened, recently, to get onto the subject of faculty hiring and recalled how the Bank Street College grad always stood out – “intelligent, caring, very creative, progressive, a cut above in terms of preparation and enthusiasm.” Pleasing words, had he heard them, for Jon Snyder, since last August the new Dean at The Graduate School of the Bank Street College of Education. Was he crazy coming to New York from sunny Santa Barbara where he was Director of the Teacher Education Programs at the University of California? A gregarious man, with a ready sense of humor, Snyder lets out a whoop and explains that he was simply coming home. Revved up to ensure that Bank Street continues to enjoy its reputation as a leader in progressive education, he is focusing on strengthening the presence of Bank Street College graduates in the public schools, he says.

Though he attended college and graduate school in Washington State, Snyder earned his doctorate at Teachers’ College, Columbia University, where he concentrated on curriculum development and educational leadership. As for his appointment to Bank Street, he says it is an “incredible treat.” The school’s mission and values are a “perfect match” with his own. As a Senior Researcher for the National Commission for Teaching and America’s Future, Snyder feels he is in a prime position to explore and experiment. Bank Street is one of five teacher preparation institutions designated as a national resource center for educators by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Snyder points out that he is a strong proponent of “learner-centered schools” but also an ardent advocate of standards, for both teachers and students. Ninety-eight percent of Bank Street graduates pass the New York State teacher certification exams on the first try.

Still, the Dean always wants to do more, do better. What goes on in Bank Street classrooms are not “cutesy activities” but lessons with “real purpose” that grow out of “programs with depth.” He recognizes that the cry for standards has tended to cause school districts to pressure teachers to teach to the test. His own priorities are in the classroom, with the students. He wants Bank Street graduates to influence the environment where they are placed and he wants that environment to be increasingly the public schools. Only 40-50% of Bank Street graduates go directly into the public sector. It’s been shown that what works for upscale kids can work for poor kids and kids of color, most of whom attend public schools, he says. True, some graduates who go on to private institutions transfer to the public system after they have been out there for a year, but he wants “more data on these two routes,” he says. He also wants to reduce the attrition rate among teachers and engage in more selective recruiting (he is already working with CUNY and Barnard and looks to expand the feeder base).

His mission? It takes him just about three seconds to whip across the room for a copy of the Bank Street Credo, which expresses the hope that “ethical standards joined to scientific attitudes” will turn out teachers who “can improve the society they have created.” His job is the “operatizing of such sentiments for the classroom.” Translation: solid research to document what works and how the model can be implemented. Toward this goal he wants to build a network for the “sharing” of ideas and to make sure that the information gets to the political leaders. Boards of education are concerned with governance, not with classrooms. “Most policy makers don’t have a clue, they need to be educated.” But if Bank Street wants to have influence, flexibility for certification, improved retention, the freedom to try what works, “we have to become a more focal presence in the public schools.” The dean also wants closer conversation among teachers on major issues as determined by research, and he wants these conversations going on at the beginning and middle of the term, not just at the end. “You don’t need more time for such discussions, only restructured time,” he points out. Faculty meetings usually have ramblers and snoozers, business as usual. Why not do in the schools what Bank Street does – try small-group meetings, say 5-6 teachers who talk with another cadre of 5-6 teachers, and then create more small groups?

So what would Dean Snyder like to have remembered as happening under his watch? He laughs, “You mean on my tombstone?” Clearly, the energetic dean has miles to go...#


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