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New York City
May 2002

New York Superintendent & Her Successful School
By Merri Rosenberg

When a book begins with an extensive acknowledgment section, thanking not only the teaching staff, but secretaries, custodians, student teachers, parent volunteers and other community members, you know that you’re in the hands of someone who understands deep in her bones exactly how to develop and sustain a flourishing school culture.

As Ms. Harwayne writes, “You don’t have to have a teaching license to make a difference in children’s lives. Everyone counts in a school building.” Precisely. Ms. Harwayne even advocates having staff switch jobs, so there is a better understanding and respect for everything that contributes to the organic, vital life of a school, from having the custodians read to children, security guards help with a math lesson, or teachers fill out supply purchase orders.

It’s not utopia. The five-story building lacks an elevator, a gym, even a formal library. Still, “part of the magic of this place is that when we know a problem exists, we tackle it,” Ms. Harwayne says. It helps that, as part of the “School-Based Option Program,” as a principal (today she’s a superintendent of District 2) she doesn’t have to hire the most senior teacher who applies for a job opening. Ms. Harwayne can select staff who shares her beliefs that working with children is a privilege, and that schools don’t need contests or competitions as motivational tools.

As a principal, Ms. Harwayne’s conviction is that her role is to support her teachers, staff, students and parents in whatever way they need. It can be as simple as placing metal mailboxes on the doors of every classroom, to minimizing disruptions and interruptions during the school day, so that focused learning can take place. Or it can be learning the names of each student, knowing about their special talents, skills and attributes, and encouraging parent and family volunteers to share their talents as well.

Going Public effortlessly combines an honest assessment of how the Manhattan New School was created in 1991 and how it has since evolved, with tangible suggestions that other schools could use to adapt some of its principles within their own walls. Neither a magnet, charter, nor alternative school, the Manhattan New School is instead a place where 550 students, representing the full spectrum of New York City’s economic and ethnic diversity, in grades K-6, daily discover the intoxication of learning.

The Manhattan New School is unified by a love of New York City and language. Ms. Harwayne, a 30-year- veteran teacher and administrator, had spent seven years with the Writing Project at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College, and her passion for literacy is evident in almost any anecdote that she shares.

Here’s a principal who makes it a point to keep books in her office that students can read when they stop by, who runs journal-writing workshops for parents, and writes letters to her students during the summer vacation. When she interviews prospective teachers, one of her questions is simply does the candidate read, and what does he or she read?

As I read through this breezy tome, I was sometimes reluctant to continue, drawn along by the author’s engaging prose, yet hesitant to finish the book and have to leave the almost-magical school she describes. Here’s someone I’d definitely want to have lunch with, simply to listen to her wonderful anecdotes about the elementary school world she inhabits as if it’s a daily gift from the gods.

Here’s an indication of just how amazing this book is. I never read footnotes or appendices, if I can possibly help it. With this work, I wanted to get a copy of nearly every appendix into the hands of my own public school administrators, so they could use the exemplary interviewing questionnaire provided, letter to new student teachers, even a sample PTA donation letter.

The author’s energy and enthusiasm are so infectious that I’d go even further: there should be some kind of grant program available, so that every graduating education student and newly certified school administrator could receive this book. It could go a very long way towards improving the educational climate in any school anywhere.#

Merri Rosenberg is a freelance journalist specializing in educational issues.


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. © 2001.