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JUNE 2010

Outstanding Principals Initiated as Cahn Fellows at Teachers College
By Sybil Maimin
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Again and again, we hear from researchers and from teachers that an effective and supportive principal is the key to a high-performing school. Seizing on this truth, in 2003 Chuck Cahn, CEO of Cahn Medical Technologies, and Jane Cahn, established a unique program to recognize and further strengthen outstanding principals and ensure the development of equally capable successors.

In a recent celebratory ceremony at Teachers College, Columbia University, The Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished New York City Principals welcomed the 2010 cohort, 23 new fellows who, while continuing to work in their own schools, will participate in and share in a series of leadership development activities over the course of a year. The new fellows become part of a growing tradition begun in 2003 that now includes 151 Cahn alumni and reaches and affects 200,000 school children in all five boroughs. Krista Dunbar, director of the program, explained that the selection committee looks for experienced principals with proven student achievement and a desire to contribute positively to New York City schools. Rather than focus on what is not working, the program finds successes and builds upon them. The training includes a two-week Summer Leadership Institute at Teachers College and at Gettysburg, Pa., the Fall Summit weekend retreat, study sessions at Teachers College, and the annual Leadership Conference in June.  At the ceremony, each fellow received a terracotta pot with the tree logo filled with items symbolic of nurturing and growth and their impending intellectual and professional journey. Included was the book, The Killer Angels, a classic work on the Civil War, to prepare participants for their trip to the storied battleground at Gettysburg where it is expected they will feel the weight, responsibility, and opportunities inherent in leadership.

Defying a culture where principals and their schools compete and remain isolated from each other, collaboration and sharing successful practices is integral to the Cahn Fellows Program. Principals will identify a challenge in their schools and, working with their colleagues during the course of the year, devise a solution. To support the next generation of school leaders with their skills and experience and sustain the program, fellows will mentor an aspiring principal (Ally) in their schools.

Chuck Cahn is justifiably pleased with the impact of fellows who, he explains, now reach 20 percent of New York City students. Beaming, he says, “These are terrific people who make a difference. If we can help a little bit and recognize what they do, we should be proud.” Joining him at the ceremony was his daughter, Amanda, a Teach for America alumna and now a student at the Columbia Graduate School of Business. Amanda explains that during her teaching experience, “seeing how real and tragic the achievement gap is — a huge problem that has to be fixed — absolutely changed my life.” She believes management and leadership are answers. Business school is giving her necessary tools as she learns strategy, management, and how to look at and solve problems. She lauds “a fantastic course,” The Education Leadership Lab, where experts from the field speak and collaborate with students on projects. With determination and fire in her eyes, this next generation in an education-minded family gives hope for the future.

The 2010 cohort includes principals with varied backgrounds and experience. Several were founding principals of schools and others were former Cahn Allies. They work in elementary, middle, and high schools and have achieved successes with low-functioning as well as gifted students. As an example, a new Cahn Fellow, David J. Vazquez, principal of the Urban Assembly Bronx School for Writers and Artists (grades 6 through 9), is also a member of New Leaders for New Schools and is a principal facilitator with New School Institute and Leadership Academy. He is proud of the “unique full complement of visual arts and a rigorous literacy program” in his school that “prepares every student to succeed in college.” He looks forward to the “intense colleagueship” in the Cahn Fellows Program, which will “push me even harder.” Randy Herman, first vice president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, happily exclaimed, “Oi, am I proud that our principals, with all the challenges they face, still believe in the essence of school leadership.”

Speaking to the new fellows, Joshua Thomases, Deputy Chief Schools Officer for Academics, New York City Department of Education, emphasized the importance of teacher accountability and “taking ownership of your work.” When parents and teachers are invested, better results are seen. “Leadership,” he said to the principals, “is critical to getting people involved and accountable. … The goal is not a great school system, but a system of great schools.” #



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