Podell & Chair of Ed. Sullivan Discuss College of SI
Joan Baum, Ph.D.
words “unique” and “collaborative” come up often in conversation
with David Podell, Acting Vice President for Academic Affairs
and Provost at the College of Staten Island (CSI) and Susan Sullivan,
Chair of the College’s Department of Education—and for good reason.
Both pride themselves on enhancing a curriculum for students,
teachers and administrators that draws on CSI’s history, location,
and strengths. The product of a merger many years ago between
a community college and an upper-division liberal arts institution
with a strong program in interdisciplinary studies, CSI has taken
advantage of its relative seclusion from the rest of the CUNY
system and its status as a public college in a borough with many
private colleges by forging ties with neighboring school districts
that allow for close exchange and evaluation. The results, say
Drs. Podell and Sullivan, is an education program that integrates
liberal arts and pedagogy in a way that has built effective “community”
among both students and faculty and between the College and its
placement schools. No conflicts here between history majors and
prospective public school teachers of history, for example. The
CSI Department of Education nurtures a course of study that requires
all prospective teachers, K- 12, to study subject matter.
But there’s more to be proud of, they say. Dr. Podell, whose previous
positions at the college were as Chair of the Department of Education
and as Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, speaks of the way
in which CSI also embraces special education. A Ph.D. from NYU
in Educational Psychology, with a publications history in special
education placement and teacher efficacy as well as in computer-assisted
instruction for students with learning disabilities, Dr. Podell,
whose undergraduate and Master’s level work was in history, is
particularly eager that teachers come to teaching with wide and
deep exposure to the liberal arts. In Dr. Sullivan, formerly of
Bank Street College, where she was Associate Director of the Leadership
Center, Dr. Podell has a supportive and highly experienced colleague.
Central to what both Dr. Podell and Dr. Sullivan cite as success
is the College’s Science, Letters and Society program (SLS) which
ensures that undergraduates are solidly grounded in content areas.
This “philosophy,” as Dr. Podell calls it, is reflected in the
fact that there is no education major at CSI. Students concentrate
in an area in liberal arts and take education courses. So now,
Dr. Podell says, with a playful sense of irony, “the State Education
Department has finally caught up with us!” Does this subject-laden
requirement at CSI mean that undergraduates who want to teach
take more credits? The answer is Yes, slightly more, but obviously,
students feel that the extra time and preparation are worth it.
SLS makes it clear that those who want to teach must demonstrate
the ability to do so. Evaluations, in other words, are built into
Another “unique” feature to be stressed is what happens at CSI
at the post-Master’s level. Teachers who come from not only CSI
but other colleges, among them Brooklyn College, St. John’s, Wagner,
and LIU, are nominated by their principals for CSI’s Educational
Administration program. What is noteworthy, says Dr. Podell, is
that CSI’s education programs manage to exist without the benefit
of a separate School of Education. Instead there are local and
interdisciplinary support groups, such as the Teacher Education
Advisory Committee (TEAC) composed of liberal arts and education
department faculty which has been meeting for years to discuss
their mutual estate.
Actually, Susan Sullivan has another favorite word about CSI’s
collaborative efforts with local area high schools—“cohort.” Working
closely with District 31 in particular, CSI organizes groups of
student teachers, a “learning community,” who work with a group
of senior faculty mentors. Success? How about a “zero dropout
rate”! The “cohort” idea extends to CSI teaching fellows or instructors
“who lead courses in at-risk schools, as they continue their education
at CSI,” says Dr. Sullivan. Beyond assisting new teachers, the
cohort idea also benefits the seasoned colleagues, who take courses
together, on sabbatical, and thus build their own learning community.
A federally and state-funded Discovery Institute, an in-service
professional development program for teachers in the high schools,
also reflects the cohort philosophy by bringing together groups
of teachers at CSI to work on curriculum development and discover
new interdisciplinary links.
Now it’s the Provost’s turn again to offer up another key word—“cycle.”
What goes on in education, says Dr. Podell, begins early with
high school seniors, who are recruited to consider careers in
teaching. “If you want to change a culture,” have a different
attitude toward teaching, you have to begin early and reinforce
at every step, from the freshman year through the post-Master’s
phase. “There is a gap between the system and teacher preparation,
particularly in the high schools,” but there could be no better
time to meet the challenges. The recent wave of retirements has
opened new lines. Of the 20-member CSI Department of Education,
14 faculty were hired within the last seven years. And of course,
the Provost might have added, there is support in the press. The
papers seem to be 100 percent behind efforts such as those that
seem to have been in place for years at The College of Staten
Island. It’s a sure bet, however, that neither Dr. Podell nor
Dr. Sullivan will be resting on any laurels. Probably “forefront”
is going to be their next favorite word.#
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