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We read the chancellor’s new ‘Principal Notes’ so you don’t have to

Carmen Fariña has committed to communication, and she’s showing it with a new newsletter to principals.Her February “Principal Notes” runs to 13 pages, and includes some of her first comments as chancellor about discipline policies and technology. It also continues her emphasis on positively reinforcing the work that principals are doing.

Her comments on discipline reflect comments she made at an event last December, Fariña criticized some charter schools for having “a military kind of atmosphere”:

I plan on engaging the New York City Police Department and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton on how we can better work together on safety and discipline issues. In school visits, I always look for:

– Positive behavior codes (“I should” versus “don’t”)
– Pleasant tone
– Student engagement and voicing of opinions

In middle school and high school, having a student advisory council and listening to their recommendations is a great way to move adolescents toward independence. Please be especially sensitive to how you handle young children who are simply being rambunctious. Let me know if you have any other recommendations for positive behavior practices.

A section on homework is likely to make her popular with students, too.

Loading students up on homework that isn’t meaningful is a waste of their valuable energy. May I recommend a school homework policy?

Arrange a time frame for each grade; in elementary school, for example, set aside a half hour for first and second graders and an hour for third and fourth graders. For middle- and high-school grades, subject teachers should consult with one another to ensure that tests are spread out evenly.

The next section on testing illustrates just how detail-oriented Fariña is going to be:

In terms of middle- and high-school tests, set a test-taking policy so that students are not overwhelmed with two exams on the same day. I, personally, do not like Monday tests. Consider, instead, science every third Wednesday and math every fourth Thursday.

Fariña includes a page and a half of “shout-outs” commending principals. Here’s one focusing on parent engagement:

At M.S. 319 Maria Teresa in Manhattan, Principal Ysidro Abreu and his parent coordinator host a monthly “Parent Learning Walk.” They start each session by discussing the elements of good instruction and then let parents observe their kids in the classroom. Afterward, parents complete a survey to assess the learning environment, noting such things as whether students did the majority of the talking in class, referenced text to explain their thinking, and asked for help when they got stuck. I love this model because it gives parents a continuity of purpose—and the tools they need to become true partners in their children’s education.

She emphasizes technology in a letter explaining what she wants to see in the schools she visits. (Later, she commends a school’s approach to English Language Learners, in which “while some kids did Google translations on their iPads, others solved problems at the smart board.”)

So what we hope to see in our classroom visits is lots of evidence of interactive learning, with an emphasis on student-to-student talk and engagement; small group, project-based learning that cuts across subject areas; and effective use of technology, especially the use of iPads and tablets for independent student research. This is particularly true in the science and social studies classrooms.

The other shout-outs: M.S. 319 Maria Teresa in Manhattan, M.S. 447 Math & Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, J.H.S. 259 William McKinley in Brooklyn, M.S. 250 West Side Collaborative Middle School in Manhattan, M422 Quest to Learn in Manhattan, and I.S. 49 Berta A. Dreyfus in Staten Island.

And the book of the month continues, this time with “Mr. Flux.” It’s available for just $13 on Amazon—a relative steal compared to her first-day pick “I Will Make Miracles,” for which you still have to pony up about $124, according to Amazon.

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