the Superintendent’s Office:
Supt. Vincent Grippo, District 20
On the fifth floor of a sparkling, newly renovated building,
with views of the nearby Verrazano bridge, Superintendent Vincent
Grippo and his staff oversee 31,000 children in the Brooklyn
neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Borough Park, Parkville, Dyker Hights,
New Utrecht and Bath Beach. Framed etchings and watercolors
decorate the office and hallway walls, and if it weren’t
for the attached labels, nobody would know that the artists
were still in grade school.
want artists who like to teach,” says Grippo, rather than
“teachers who like art.” He also notes, jokingly,
that professional artists, preferring to teach part-time, also
come at a significantly lower price than regular classroom teachers.
These artists, as well as music teachers, serve the elementary
schools of District 20, which boasts a district-wide elementary
band an orchestra and Suzuki violin in seven kindergartens.
Because the state mandates art and music education only in middle
and high school, many elementary schools, for lack of funds,
do not include them in the general curriculum. Other arts programs
in the district’s schools include partnerships with the
Frick Museum and the Metropolitan Opera.
Yet the 31,000 children who attend the district’s 23 elementary
schools and 8 middle schools hardly spend all their in-class
time finger painting or playing musical instruments. In a district
where an estimated 40-45 percent of
students come from homes where English is not spoken, literacy
is another major focus area, particularly when it comes to professional
have a very language-rich literacy approach,” says Grippo,
which involves “reading, writing, speaking and listening.”
Each school has up to five teachers who are certified as Reading
Recovery teachers by a program run out of NYU. “It’s
like intensive care for youngsters in the first grade who are
experiencing difficulty with literacy,” explains Grippo.
Last year, District 20’s fourth graders scored third citywide
on standardized exams, above the averages for both the city
and the state, despite having the fourth largest number of English
Language Learners citywide.
Grippo contributes this success to a number of factors, primarily
the most important thing. You’ve got to teach teachers
to work smarter, not harder–they already work hard.”
He also credits a whole-child approach and after school programming
made possible by funding from 21st Century Schools.
The district supports an inclusion model for special education
students, in which students are brought into the mainstream
classroom, along with another teacher and a paraprofessional.
trying to keep kids in their classrooms and keep down the student-teacher
ratio,” says Grippo.
With slimming city budgets, how does district 20 manage to afford
all these “extras”?
Foremost, explains Grippo, “we run a very lean administration.”
He admits, however, that the district has been “very lucky
in getting grants.”
Within the last two years, the district has been awarded a federal
Magnet grant of $5 million, $7 million to improve teacher training,
$2 million from 21st Century Schools for the
after school programming, Comprehensive School Reform Education
grants from the State Education Department and several other
sums. The individual schools have also received funds,
such as the two Annenberg grants for arts education that were
announced last June.
Like many districts, 20 relies on one staff grant-writer, as
well as other temporary consultants.
have to be competitive,” reasons Grippo. “You have
to be a manager. You have to know your budget and how to use
Competition, Grippo believes, isn’t necessarily
a negative thing, even in the public schools. Middle-school
students in the district, for example, apply to small theme-based
academies carved out of large middle schools. “Our middle
school kids literally make a choice. They don’t necessarily
stay in the same school,” says Grippo. “Oddly enough,
the competition works. Schools get worried and they start to
The Superintendent strongly feels that “a building does
not define a school,” which is lucky, given that district
20 is 107 percent utilized, despite the opening of a new school
in September, the addition of portable classrooms and the new
early childhood center, which houses a number of beautiful new
kindergarten classrooms in the lower floors of Grippo’s
In one classroom, a group of five year-olds sat on a brightly
colored rug, listening to their teacher; in the cafeteria, folded
tables had been pushed against the walls to make room for physical
activity as the children jumped in and out of colored hula-hoops.
real challenge,” says Grippo, “is to get a quality
program into every school, into every
classroom, into every grade, and leave no child behind.”#
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