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New York City
May 2002

Inside the Superintendent’s Office:
Evelyn Castro, District 4
By Marylena Mantas

“When 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 into contact.”

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.

“I 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.

“Taking one dollar away from any school district is wrong,” says the Superintendent. “We will continue to fight because I believe that it is wrong and unfair.”

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.

“While 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 schools.

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.

“The 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.”

“I 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.”

“The 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.”

“It’s 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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