York Superintendent & Her Successful School
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
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
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
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
Rosenberg is a freelance journalist specializing in educational
Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel:
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