Inside the Superintendent's Office: Tony Sawyer
accept no less for any single child in this district than what
I would for my own biological child,” says Tony Sawyer, superintendent
of Manhattan High Schools.
Appointed superintendent three years ago, Sawyer considers himself
an “educational facilitator” whose job is “to help principals
job is to meet with everyone that has a concern,” he says. “I'll
speak to everyone in my school district, including students.”
Maintaining a hands-on leadership style, the superintendent leads
a district that serves approximately 42,000 students, of which
48 percent come from one of five boroughs other than Manhattan.
One of the district's attractions is the large variety of options
it offers to students, including 12 large academic-comprehensive
high schools, six smaller theme-centered schools, two specialized
high schools, four vocational high schools, 16 educational option
high schools and nine (6-12 grade) high school and community school
district collaborative secondary schools.
According to Sawyer, the district opted to establish theme-based
schools more than a decade ago and he considers these schools
a unique feature of the district.
advantages of theme-based school were identified early on,” he
said. “Whatever the theme has been it has been our goal to make
truth in advertising. The district has the responsibility to live
up to the expectations of the parents and the students.”
According to Sawyer, the incorporation of the arts and technology
in the curriculumn is an integral part of the disrict's philosophy.
interdisciplinary curriculum is at the heart of what happens in
our schools,” he said. “The challenge is for content driven teachers
to create a thematic approach through the arts. We strive to make
that a reality.”
Sawyer underscored the focus placed on student achievement in
the ninth grade. In an attempt to provide ninth graders with a
proper support system, the district provides them with the best
educators, thus reversing the traditional trends of specialized
teachers targeting only higher grades.
you put the weakest teacher with the kids that have the strongest
need you have a philosophy of failure,” said Sawyer.
According to Sawyer, the advantages of theme based schools and
the focus placed on ninth graders produce positive results when
combined with the district's efforts to offer smaller class size,
an extended school day, courses to students who need support in
certain areas and double periods of literacy and math for those
demonstrating need. The results include an increase in the number
of students who achieve high scores on the Regents, a decrease
in the dropout rate and an increase in the graduation rate. Sawyer
measures the district's success based upon the overall number
of students who pass their classes, the district's ability to
infuse the arts and technology into the curriculum and the attendance
rate in the borough. He believes that “good attendance means good
quality of instruction.”
He added, “the only way I know how successful a school is, is
by speaking to the kids in a school about how they feel about
their scholastic environment.”
His mission consists of “selecting really good leaders and then
providing them with assistance to ensure their success.”
want leadership born out of a sense of pride,” he said. “You need
someone that can go out and take the bull by the horns and make
decision for his/her school. You need strong leaders that know
how to create a team.”
At a time when the district $267 million budget might be cut by
$20 milllion, Sawyer believes in keeping “the classroom sacrosant.”
Necessary cuts will take place mostly on the district level.
When he interviews potential principals and assistant principals
he looks for experience, commitment, charisma but most of all
“how much they like children.”
so much has changed, they might have all that and then I have
to provide the professional development to support that,” says
Professional development in the Manhattan High School's district
takes several forms. New teachers are pulled out of their classrooms
eight times a year to attend professional development workshops.
According to Sawyer, professional development is also done in
partnership with external programs such as City College and Bank
learning is at the heart of what we do,” said Sawyer. “Teachers
are really enlivened. They leave feeling that they have something
that they can take back to their classroom and implement.”
Principals who have less then three years of experience also participate
in “the next step conferences” where they are guided on
how to create a team, how to deal with u-rated teachers and more
topics. All principals belong to a quad (a four principal team),
which meets regularly to discuss and find solutions to concerns
raised during their monthly meetings with the superintendent.
“They form an alliance,” says Sawyer. “This creates trust.”#
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