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New York City
July 2002

Inside the Superintendent’s Office: Betty Rosa
By Marylena Mantas

Classical music echoes through the hallways of IS 101, an intermediate school in Community School District 8 in the Bronx. Visitors can witness group work at its best, with students sitting together engaged in problem solving and discussion. More impressive, however, remains the joyful, uplifting spirit of the school, whose establishment in 1995 was partly due to the district’s efforts to celebrate its diversity—District 8, located in the East Bronx, runs along the Bruckner Expressway, extending from the Hunts Point peninsula and the Morrisania area in the south, through the Soundview Classons Point area in the center, and bounded on the north by Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck.

Today, the school is the academic home of students who call themselves “ambassadors” as they are enrolled in IS 101 to represent the elementary school they came from.

“This school binds us as one district,” says Betty Rosa, Superintendent of District 8. “It does not matter what local community you come from. The school is symbolic of our diversity [and it is] a place that belongs to students. They own this school.”

IS 101 is only one of 30 schools located in District 8, which serves about 24, 000 students.

“My first accountability is to the children in my community,” says Rosa, who considers the role of the superintendent as that of the “master teacher.” “My principals are my students and the district is my classroom,” she says.

Her “lesson plans” stem from her own experiences as a teacher and a principal, but most importantly from her own value system. The core elements of these values appear in the form of a quotation written on a blackboard in her office: “Go to the people, live among them, plan with them. Start with what they know and build on what they have. And, when the current leaders leave, the people will say we have it.”

“I serve the people, the children and the community…I am here to provide guidance,” says Rosa, adding that she considers her job “the most humbling experience” and is guided by one of her grandmother’s sayings, “the best kind of person is the one that has humility…no matter what your attainments.”

Although she remains committed to her values and acknowledges that she is “a collection of her own experiences,” Rosa underscored that she embraces the different characteristics of every school and the leadership styles of principals.

“Every school in my district is different,” she says. “[When I visit a school] I always ask myself ‘if I was the principal in this school would I run it this way? [The answer might be no], but that does not mean what that principal is doing is wrong.”

She will take advantage of any opportunity to model for a principal or teacher and when observing classrooms, or visiting occasionally she takes over. When hiring new principals she looks for individuals who are strong leaders with competitive spirits that know how to teach children in different ways. The qualifications are similar for new teachers.

“We look for teachers with content knowledge and an ability to reach out to children. We look for teachers who want to enhance the lives of children and teachers with a sensitive side for the struggling child,” says Rosa.

On hot topics, like testing, the superintendent is bold and direct, saying that a child’s life should not be judged by one snapshot. “It’s a sad statement about what real learning is. We kill natural curiosity in children,” she says.

She supports maintaining and enforcing standards for children, as long as the learning process does take place and teaching is not related only to the test.

“We have sterilized some of the stuff related to the joy of learning,” she says, adding that it’s good to create frameworks as long as they are not internalized. “I am a superintendent of children, not of adults.”#


Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.


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