the Superintendent’s Office:
Castro, District 4
I commit to something it becomes my whole life,” says Evelyn Castro,
superintendent of Community School District 4. Castro’s philosophy
has shaped the leadership style she has brought to District 4,
which she considers “a district in which all of us need to believe
in the ability and potential of every student with whom we come
A native New Yorker and a product of the New York City public
school system, Castro launched her career as a first grade teacher
at PS 101. She has remained in District 4, which serves the East
Harlem communities, for the nearly 30 years of her career. Appointed
as Superintendent seven years ago, she has worked to make a difference
in the lives of more than 14,000 students who daily venture to
the district’s schools.
love doing this,” says Castro. “The day that I can’t smile when
considering the impact I can have on the lives of our children,
then I don’t belong here. I have to be self-reflective and ask
if I have spend my day effectively.”
These days, projected budget cuts are a challenge that transcends
her self-reflection. Approximately $2.4 million were cut from
the district’s budget this year and plans have been submitted
in anticipation of additional cuts for the next academic year.
one dollar away from any school district is wrong,” says the Superintendent.
“We will continue to fight because I believe that it is wrong
Due to projected budget cuts, the District will have to reduce
the scope of afterschool programs. However, to minimize the effects
on the schools, Castro plans to cut as much as possible at the
district office level. For example, this year when members of
the technology department retired or moved on to different jobs,
the district did not replace them. This may have saved school-level
positions that provided direct instruction to children, but it
shallowed the instructional support available to schools and children.
we recognize our responsibility to be fiscally responsible and
keep within the spending capacity of the city, it’s an unfair
process to be put through because you have to start weighing what
is essential and what is not,” she argues. “Everything is essential
and having to make cascading reductions upon previous reductions
is not in the best interest of children.”
As District 4 awaits further cuts to its $90 million budget, Castro
prepares her staff to face the consequences. The district must
now look at other means to raise revenues, including not- for-profit
organizations and corporations who could “adopt” one of its themed
Despite the financial constraints and their short- and long-term
effects, Castro underscored that District 4 remains committed
to its vision “to provide children learning environments in which
they can be successful.”
The Superintendent cited improved special education test scores
as one sign of progress and explained that the improvement came
about after the district emphasized inclusion and integration
of special education students in general education claases.
norm now is that you can’t tell the difference between the two
[general education and special education]…this is a place for
real learning,” she said.
In the past seven years the District has also revamped the bilingual
education program, which according to Castro had begun to separate
English speaking and non-English speaking students. Citing the
Shomburg Academy, which was begun as an alternative/bilingual
school that she and other colleagues founded in the late ’70s,
she explained that it had been isolated on the second floor of
PS 108. The revamp emphasized the need for integration and transition
into the full school population.
Castro also focused on the district’s parent involvement efforts.
An example offered was the series Book Talks, which she characterized
as a form of professional development in which community adults
come together to read and discuss books.
The Superintendent spoke with pride about the culture in the district
that has seen a decrease in competition between and among the
schools. Increased collaboration on various initiatives has enabled
principals, teachers, parents and staff to realize “that we all
serve a common purpose.”
am very proud of having selected a group of leaders who are very
clear on what is needed to make change,” says Castro of the district’s
principals and other instructional leaders, adding that issues
related to instruction dominate the discussion during monthly
meetings she holds with principals, program directors and district
curriculum leaders. Castro also works closely with assistant principals
and trains them to become effective leaders in their own right,
as they work in support of their school’s instructional program.
The Superintendent maintains an open door policy and hopes that
her leadership style and personal interactions have the desired
impact on the entire district. “A Superintendent is someone
who gives direction to the whole educational community. We’ve
got to live and breathe it. You wear many hats, but can never
take them off,” she says.
She believes that her principals have the same level of commitment
and understand that they “are part of community and that parents,
students, and staff need to have the expectation that they can
turn to them for guidance and direction.”
moment you walk into the school as principal, you need to be seen
as someone worthy of respect and who is willing to help them find
answers,” she says.
Castro emphasized that good instruction can make a vast difference
in a student’s life and added that she and members of her district
“believe in the importance of effective effort.”
all about telling children that they can do it and then providing
the instruction,” she says. “I don’t believe in educational osmosis;
children need to be taught the strategies that best serve them
in their effort to gain skills and knowledge. All children need
confirmation of their ability to succeed. ”#
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