Part 4 of: “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: The Basics For Establishing or Reimagining a High School Career Technical Education (CTE) Program or School.

The organizational commitment and foundational work required for establishing or the revisional re-establishment (upgrading) of a high school Career Technical Education (CTE) program or school.

All CTE program students should face three critical challenges on their path to high school graduation. Yet, at the same time, these “3-challenges” will double as better life-after-graduation favorable advantages for learning options, and further, produce highly promising future professional career opportunities.
The first challenge is to satisfy the state and school district’s “general” credit linked to grade promotion guidelines, standardized exams passing, and high school graduation requirements.
The second challenge is to successfully pass all of their CTE “major” (area of concentration) requirements of a sequence of courses, navigate written and performance CTE certification standardized exams, earn a community service credit, and finally, develop, complete, and present a final senior year CTE project.
And the third challenge is that all CTE graduates must go beyond the state/district standard “general graduation” requirements and be transcript “college-ready” eligible to gain admission and be able to successfully complete a two- or four-year college program, even if they choose to not do so.

The school must establish these three CTE graduation requirements if they expect to operate and function as an authentic and highly successful CTE program or school in deeds, not just words. This academic profile and departmental objectives automatically demands that a CTE program/school not be bound by the stifling-standard staffing, labor, and work schedule agreements and restrictions that burden many existing public school districts. The most obvious reason is that CTE students can’t possibly complete all three of those graduation requirements in a “typical” school daytime schedule. Also, the 10th-12th grade sequence of CTE classes requires a minimum of 90 minutes to be meaningfully (educationally) productive, when combined with a maximum class size of twenty-four students; principals should immediately be able to hypothetically calculate (class size/minutes/personnel), the higher than regular classroom cost involved; clearly a great deal of “rules and regulations” relief + extra-funding is required for any CTE initiative to work effectively.

An additional operational requirement of a CTE program or school is that they must have the flexibility to employ CTE departmental teachers with specialized skills that may not fit the public school official licensure requirements or professional teacher pathway. Optimally, a CTE program/school with a department of many “non-traditional” teachers should have a director, chairperson, or AP with a certified teacher (strong instructional) background, and if budgetarily possible (highly recommended), a dedicated CTE department F/T instructional coach. Why is it essential to provide extra-instructional support for “non-traditional” CTE teachers? Because PreK-12 teaching in general, but in this specific case, high school teenagers, is not as easy as many who are outside of the profession imagine it to be! (Real principal talk: You must prepare for the possibility that a “non-traditional” CTE teacher may quit before the end of the semester or year, as they encounter the natural “full beauty” of the adolescent attitudinal worldview!).

A further administrative hurdle to overcome in establishing an exemplary CTE program/school is that generally, they cost more money as “start-ups” and are more expensive over the long-term than non-CTE programs and schools; this is based on their unique and essential operational, organizational and structural requirements. This extra cost includes the beforementioned class size maximum of twenty-four students for optimum safety and learning purposes (24 also works for instructional reasons as a great deal of CTE classwork is paired and quartet group assignment projects). In addition, CTE programs/schools must meet many unique but necessary architectural (specially designed learning spaces) requirements. Further, CTE schools require specialized teaching stations, tools, furniture, specialized machinery, structural safety designs, and CTE course-specific safety equipment, and often unique (and extensive) electrical wiring. There are machine and equipment servicing contracts that are needed. In addition, there are costly teaching/learning materials annual replenishment supply costs. Also, the expenditures for CTE programs and schools are higher because of the building operational schedule (extended school day) and maintenance (custodial extra-cleaning). Alas, there is just no way around this financial investment reality, which is why it’s critical to any CTE programmatic success that the school district make a serious long-term pedagogical and budgetary commitment to the program or school.

Additionally, any school district hoping to create or redesign a CTE program/school must include for both academic and financial reasons a strong industry partnership program, the school’s (501c3 foundation) must have access to a grant writer who could also help coordinate multiple fundraising campaigns, a resource, and materials acquisition Rolodex of supporters and donators, and help in the recruitment of ongoing external human resources volunteer-mentoring efforts.
The (Entrepreneurial) principal assigned to the school must have (along with a lot of other CTE-specific leadership abilities) extraordinary fundraising capability skills. The funds raised by the school’s internal and external fundraising efforts should not substitute (a bad public school habit) for the district’s long-term additional funding for the school; all funds raised by the school (and necessary for the program’s success) should supplement and not replace the required district’s “special allocation” for the program or school! (Real principal talk: As a principal, I never told any central district office person the amount of funds we raised outside of my official district budget allocation; this was not illegal since the annual reports of my 501c3 foundation were filed with the state and therefore was public information. The reason for my not providing that information is that in public education, we can often get the concepts of “equity” and “equality” mixed up and confused to the determent of students).

And then there are the final “heavy lift” political/communication issues for creating effective CTE programs/schools: It is critically important that a board of education (local school district), district leadership officials, unions, elected officials, parents, and the community at large understand how CTE schools/programs are and why they must be very different from “regular programs or schools,” and importantly what that difference means for prospective students admission requirements, graduation requirements, summer and weekend programs, staffing, organization and scheduling, school building leadership, budgeting, labor-contract agreements, instructional and non-instructional staffing support, and professional development.

The good news about all of that extra start-up cost, extensive planning, professional development, “rules-regulations-relief,” and additional annual higher operational expenses (e.g., classroom materials replenishment costs are subject to increases in national/international building and construction “market forces” cost increases), will more than pay for itself with more-better student: attendance, punctuality, “course passing rates” (avoiding costly “credit recovery” programs, e.g., summer school) good behavior, academic achievement outcomes on report cards and standardized exams; and additionally, higher, more meaningful and “societally adaptable” graduation profiles and rates. Finally, a good CTE school (as is the case with any highly-functioning public school), will partly “pay for itself” by having the ability to “pull” students away from private schools and thus increase the district’s per/pupil local, state and federal funds allocations (not to mention making those presently “double-taxed” parents happy to be free of paying a private school tuition cost). All of the things that are not accomplished by the many much, much more expensive “school improvement,” “closing gaps,” and “raising achievement” habitually bad high priced schemes* that school districts are so fond of engaging in.

And by the way, if this counts for anything, CTE initiatives will produce happier and more satisfied parents and students (and employers). In addition, it will, to a great extent, deprive and diminish our criminal justice system of its “poor education recipients” human material supply. And finally, CTE programs, when done right, offer the beautiful possibility of young people who live in our most employment-challenged communities the ability to have a better job and entrepreneurship options and opportunities future.

*These programs essentially don’t work (despite their often sexy/well marketed and worded acronyms) in major part because:

(1) they don’t dare infringe on the politically sacred zones of adult job guarantees, comfort, and the comfortable assurances of no consequences for failure (only designated students, their parents, and specific communities suffer a loss).

(2) Secondly, these doom-to-fail “distraction programs” (some of these bad ideas are pushed by the pedagogically asleep “woke” crowd) don’t really get at the core challenge of creating and expanding the sustained quality of teaching and learning opportunities for larger populations of students.

The NYC mayor-elect Eric Adams correctly asks the question: “How can a system spend so many billions of dollars and produce such poor outcomes?”… Well, there it is (a large part of the answer), summed up in those previously stated #’s (1) and (2) assertions!

Part 5: Building a highly-effective CTE staff and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate; all are the ultimate reflections and manifestations of the school’s philosophy of CTE education.

Who Will do the Work of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?

Part 1: Why our public schools are in serious need of more enhancing technology capacity infrastructure upgrading.

Recently I was honored by my former school, Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony recognizing the major technological upgrading of the school’s library to a Research and Media Center (R&MC). This new resource-rich facility will give students access to a vast world of reading and study resources covering high school students’ intellectual, inner-attainment/enjoyment, and social-emotional needs. At the same time, the R&MC will offer study research resources for term papers and projects in all academic subject areas, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The R&MC will also complement the student’s in-school Advanced Placement classes and outside of school university-based college-level courses. This powerful project was championed and received ($1 million in) funding from Brooklyn Borough President (soon to be NYC mayor) Eric Adams.

The good news for the entire city looking forward is that in my conversations with Mr. Adams, I strongly sense that he understands the need for the technology-based R&MC model to be available to all children, not just at SSCHS or NYC, but indeed, throughout our entire nation.
This understanding by Mr. Adams is critical for NYC children, because, to be honest, I have not always been successful in getting elected officials, civic leaders, and sadly, even some educational leaders, to be able to wrap their brains around the crucial need to combine STEM education, research skills, personal resilience capabilities, good self-discipline/study habits, academic knowledge, information, and algorithmic competencies; and further, students having highly-adaptive performative skills (in classwork and on standardized assessment instruments). And then having all of these student scaffolding conceptual and behavioral qualities delivered by a highly-skilled and high-efficaciously gifted school staff. Equally important is that this high-quality ‘teaching and learning experience’ is fairly given to all students, without prejudice, bias or neglectful malice; a zip code should not be a quality-future life-determining number.
Finally, this approach to building students’ intellectual and emotional empowerment capabilities can only be accomplished through the determined work of a strongly ethical school building leader and a committed staff that is strategically smart and morally compassionate in the application of the principles of equity and equality.

America, our public schools, have a technology infrastructure problem.

I am happy that President Biden’s “Infrastructure Bill” passed, and for sure, it will do much good for our nation.
To fix and build our economy, we must build and fix bridges better, expand and upgrade roads, and improve the many modes of human and commercial transportation. But, we must also build better technological learning access bridges and roads that could transport our young people into a highly-skilled, competent and confident workforce prepared future.
And of course, there’s some irony in play here; because based on my professional work, observations, and travel experiences in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia; the political leaders from those states should have been the legislation’s (with Biden’s original proposal format) greatest champions; but such is our present political state of national self-destruction.

Unfortunately, the Infrastructure Bill, in my view, was nowhere close to what is needed for upgrading the technology infrastructure in the most technology-framework deficient school districts in our nation. This bill would need to be twice as large to begin to address the tremendous educational technology and internet soft and hardware upgrading that many of the school districts (and public libraries) in those states mentioned above (and many others) so desperately need.

Further, for US rural public educators, there is a never-ending struggle to match the present and future American workforce competencies demands that could be solved in part by those school communities having access to state-of-the-art, high technology capacity learning environments that could provide their students the access to research/library services links, online/virtual courses, particularly in those subject/content curriculum areas where there is an acute shortage of certified teachers (STEM, foreign languages, the Arts, college-level/AP courses, etc.). In addition, and specifically, on the high school side of the equation, having better hard and soft internet technology infrastructure could allow students to gain access to Career Technology Education (CTE) certification courses for private sector companies like Microsoft, CISCO, and governmental agency job opportunities in skilled technical areas like robotics and cyberforensics.

The ‘endangering-our-future-economic-growth’ technology capacity gap between rural and urban America and the secondary and equally deleterious lack-of-access-to-opportunity gap that separates communities inside urban localities is one of the greatest threats to the US being able to maintain and enhance its international competitive and international cooperative favorable economic development status.

Finally, we have painfully been taught (but have we learned?) by our Covid-19 school years’ experience that the technological capabilities and infrastructure gaps between school districts, and the enfranchised students versus the students of disenfranchisement access to technology resources gaps existing between cohorts of students inside of school districts, has most-likely led (by way of learning loss/learning gain factors) to an unfavorable increase in an already severely existing academic learning and achievement gap situation.

We have met the #1 enemy of our future national economic development capabilities…and that enemy is our inability to employ all of our national human resources!

I found it strikingly symbolic that Presidents Joseph Biden and Xi Jinping held a summit the day after the signing of the US Infrastructure Bill. I, for one, don’t buy the many current fear-mongering commentaries making the news media rounds proclaiming that China is the greatest threat to America’s future social, political, and economic success; after all, China is not passing US state-level voter restriction laws, and it does not direct or manage the dismal academic achievement outcomes of US public school systems. But educationally interesting, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to its credit, does clearly understand that closing their rural/urban, poor/more affluent families STEM structural/infrastructural divide is an essential key to any plan for a PRC national economic development strategy that would lead to future “first-world” status success.
Now I know this because PRC regional commissioners of education, superintendents, and principal delegations visited both (SSCHS/PHELPS) of my high schools. And so, why would the PRC invest so much in sending education delegations to visit two US urban Title 1 high schools? First, I understood their unstated objective as an educational leader who appreciates an effective information gathering plan for gathering valuable information.
It appeared that the focus of all of their questions could be reduced and framed into one fundamental question:

“How are you able to get students from communities that were traditionally excluded from STEM learning opportunities and representation to embrace, succeed and exceed in their STEM studies?”

One of the critical parts of my answer to them was this:

First, you must challenge any anti-STEM cultural beliefs that may exist in the minds of the students (their parents and the community), by affirming that STEM is historically and presently very much a part of universal (everybody’s) culture; STEM learning, achievement, any real or imagined “STEM-giftedness” is not the restrictive territory of any particular social-economic class, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or geographical location.
Secondly, ‘nail early’ (elementary school) the student’s ability (prerequisite arithmetic skills) to take and master that critical ‘STEM-gateway’ algebra course. You must have (our high school program) four years of lab science courses and four years of mathematics. Design STEM electives (e.g., computer-assisted art and design), teams, and clubs (e.g., robotics, meteorology, game design, etc.). You must surround and immerse students in highly-effective STEM instructional practices (and then continually professionally develop those teaching talents); make sure students have access to modern college/industry level STEM equipment and building structures (supported and strengthened by the necessary external infrastructure); insist that the students are being engaged with a robust and rigorous STEM curriculum and standards-based assessments program that reflects and ‘rehearses’ the students in those advance STEM technological knowledge and application skills you want them to learn and later practice as graduated (STEM professional) adults… Essentially, what the PRC presently succeeds at doing with their specialized professional athletes’ development schools!

But suppose any nation’s (US or the PRC) leaders want to produce more and better specific categories of students, e.g., STEM competent, from the ranks of the “traditionally” ignored, excluded, or underserved populations. In that case, there must be a profound (game-changing) pedagogical/political thinking shift in how they will make investments in technological institutional structures and the necessary supporting civic infrastructures that will lead to the growth in the qualitative and quantitative numbers of those dispossessed and disconnected students; it won’t happen by accident. A public civil service educational bureaucracy left to its own job justifying/persevering “playing-it-politically-safe” inertia culture will naturally incline toward predictively producing unimaginative, uninventive, and mediocre educational outcomes.

The critical question for America is: Will we finally realize too late (by ignoring the recent demographic predictive math of the 2020 census) that the denial of STEM school structural learning opportunities and infrastructure enabling capabilities to the disentitled children (the majority population) of our public school systems, will eventually inflict serious economic, social, and psychological harm on the country’s future developmental aspirations; a situation that will cause even the nation’s children (and adults) of entitlement to be rendered unable to avoid the resulting collective psyche pain.

In Part 2, I discuss a second major public school (and the nation’s) infrastructure upgrading problem. And that is the problem caused by US public education’s “stuckness” in an old and timely-unsuitable “vocational school” model. Our current approach is not imaginative, robust, or dynamic enough to meet the country’s modern need to produce skills trades apprenticeship-school-ready, allied health career prepared-for-internships, and applied technology certified industry and governmental agencies work-force ready high school graduates. For these reasons, we need to upgrade from the traditional “vocational education” model to a modern version of the Career Technical Education (CTE) model, intellectually, pedagogically, and structurally, and do it expeditiously.

Science Skills Center High School Library Naming and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

On Friday, November 12, 2021, 1:00 PM ET, the Hon. Eric Adams, NYC’s Department of Education (NYCDOE) Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS), will ‘cut-the-ribbon’ on its new state-of-the-art Research Library and Media Center (RLMC). The RLMC will be named after the school’s founding principal, Michael A. Johnson*.

I would first of all like to thank Dr. Dahlia McGregor, the SSCHS principal, for developing a dynamically inspiring library facility and proposing that I be honored in such a fantastic way. I would also like to thank former NYC Chancellor Richard Carranza and present NYC Chancellor Meisha Ross Porter for graciously waving the NYCDOE regulation that prohibits the naming of any part of an NYC public school facility for a person who is still living (I am, by the way, very much alive, fully vaccinated + booster shot!).
As a former NYC superintendent, I understand the “political risk” of taking such a bold action; and so, I will always strive to honor their decision and work hard never to disappoint them.

Further, and in every significant way critical to this project, I would like to thank the Honorable Eric Adams (now mayor-elect of NYC), Brooklyn Borough President, who provided encouragement, material, and spiritual support for this new library facility. I am highly honored that Mr. Adams would recognize me, a humble son of Crown Heights Brooklyn, in this extraordinary way. And in addition, with all of the things he must have on-his-plate, that he has decided to attend the event personally. It is my hope and prayer that SSCHS will make his future public leader-servant mission work easier, and that SSCHS will forever remain (in the words of several former NYC Mayors and Chancellors, and specifically quoting one former NYC Chancellor Harold Levy): “One of the great bright and shining stars of the NYC public school constellation!”

I am also proud to announce that the Research Library/Media Center will be managed by the very competent and experienced hands of SSCHS Librarian, Ms. Sandra Echols. I sincerely hope that my former American Library Association and Brooklyn Public Library Trustees colleagues, and all of my many elected officials, corporate, private foundations, and city, state, and federal governmental agency friends will give this great new Library the support it deserves.

Finally, as you have probably noticed, the word “Science” is prominently situated in the school’s name; but it also takes the lead in the school’s extraordinary sense of respect for the principles of science; therefore, this event will be virtually broadcast so that we can encourage medically safe distancing. I am hopeful that at some point in the future, after everyone gets vaccinated (sorry, you know once a principal, always…), and we have defeated this Covid-19 scourge, we will be able to gather as a community and celebrate in this beautiful facility. But, until then, and with special thanks to SSCHS Technology Coordinator Mr. Andres Villar; here is the virtual viewing information:

Subject: Library Ceremony Zoom Meeting.
Topic: MICHAEL A. JOHNSON LIBRARY RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY & OPENING
Time: Nov 12, 2021, 1:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86881150113?pwd=bmtIMjhtTS82b1JHWTk4ODRmTTBTZz09

Meeting ID: 868 8115 0113

Passcode: 470375

One tap mobile
+16465588656,,86881150113#,,,,*470375# US (New York)
+13126266799,,86881150113#,,,,*470375# US (Chicago)

Dial by your location
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)

Meeting ID: 868 8115 0113

Passcode: 470375

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kqK1Chipy
If you have any technical viewing questions please contact Mr. Andres Villar at: (718) 243-9413

For all those who are ever watching and forever watching over us from the ancestral realm, my mother, family, and friends; my growing-up-in church family, the community/neighborhood elders of my youth; my childhood Cub/Boy Scout, Sunday school, Acolyte, and P.A.L. leaders, the kind and wise Hasidic (a WWII Holocaust survivor) grandmother who daily provided me with warm milk, cookies, and words of encouragement during those very cold dark winter days on my before-the-start-of-school Eastern Parkway newspaper route (Oh my, route #18!).

To all, both living and dead, of my great K-12 NYC public school educators. Please know, all of you, that I have failed and fallen short of my own expectations at times, but rest assured that I have always strived to be worthy of your hopeful dreams and aspirational belief that the unfolding promise, “under-divine-construction,” ever inquiring, and in so many ways awkward and discontented adolescent you thought warranted your attention would someday make all of your hard work, support, and sacrifices worthwhile.

My young world was (and the world still is) full of many morally and efficaciously excellent, gracious, kind, and caring adults, wrapped in all colors, religions, nationalities, and ethnicities; these are those who sincerely want to see all of the children of this world survive, succeed and enjoy life to the fullest; and without them, our species is despairingly doomed.

I was that societally disenfranchised “latch-key” kid who was able to survive into adulthood because of two safe sanctuaries; P.S. 9 elementary school and the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), where I went every day after school and stayed until my mother came home from work. The BPL’s unofficial childcare program allowed me to escape the many dangers of the Brooklyn streets. And yet, (as the old folks would say: “the devil can’t know what’s on God’s mind”), that escaping danger experience allowed me to spend hours on hours of intellectual seed-planting reading time with great enlightening books, across many different topic areas. That “falling-in-love” with books period of my adolescence would lead to a life-long love of reading, learning, and enjoying the knowledge prizes that waited at the end of every intellectual inquiry. P.S. 9 (and later JHS 294’s Gifted and Talented program) and the BPL learning sanctuaries also provided a constantly in danger Brooklyn Black boy with that critically crucial safe space to be smart. I would eventually share my love-of-learning, and seek to protect and inspire that learning-love in thousands of young people; and who would imagine (surely not me) that the BPL free after-school “childcare kid” would one day serve as a Trustee for the entire BPL system; and as a professional educator, create a nationally and internationally highly acclaimed after-school STEM learning center in a wing of P.S. 9! It all almost sounds—well, miraculous!

To my many friends and supporters, my professional education community colleagues, in the U.S. and from around the world (especially my former students who, to my great joy, are now my professional colleagues), to all of my former students in whatever career they pursued, to all of the outstanding school staff members, school administrators, principals, teachers, and the many school district staff members I worked with as a superintendent. Having gained a more wise and greater time-granted experiential understanding of life, I can now, with profound and humble sincerity, fully appreciate the many years of love, support, and positive teamwork accomplishments we have seen together; for surely your names are forever joined to the single name on the wall above the doors of this library—Peace and Blessings on you all. And to everyone, please stay well, stay safe, stay smart and follow the science!
M.A.J.

*Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized formal (school-based) and informal (outside-of-schools) Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Career Technical Education (CTE) educator; and a School Leadership Educationalist. He served as an expert peer-review panelist for “request for funding” proposals submitted to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation. A member of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Science Assessment Exam Development Committee, designers of the first NAEP national science exams. A presenter and panelist at numerous professional conferences, symposiums, and meetings like the NYS Governor’s Conference on Developing New York State’s Action Plan for Science and Engineering Education, Research and Development, Albany, New York; 1990, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Meeting: “Science and Mathematics Assessment in the Service of Instruction,” the National Press Club, the National Urban League National Conference: “Science and Mathematics Education, Tools for African-American development,” Philadelphia, PA, the New York Academy of Sciences, and as the keynote speaker at the International Conference for STEM Administrators and Educators, City College, Norwich, England.

The subject of many international books, dissertations, research studies, electronic and print media stories, and articles including PBS’s “Crisis: Who Will Do Science?” (1990) and the Nightly Business Report, PBS: “Phelps: An example of a school of the future”, 2008. The New York Times Magazine, “Scores Count.” Bulletin, National Association of Secondary School Principals – “Standards-Based Education”: Are Academic Standards a Threat or an Opportunity, 1997, Cross and Joftus pgs. 15-16; Savoy Magazine 2012: “CISCO/Phelps High School Developing the Next Generation of IT Leaders.” “Bridging the gap between cultures”; Li Xing and Tan Yingzi; China Daily; 2011. The Washington Academy of Science; Journal (v. 97, no 3); “STEM/CTE Education: Phelps as a new model”; Dr. Cora Marrett (NSF); Dr. Sylvia M. James (NSF); 2012. Johnson also serves as a consultant and grant writer/reviewer for universities and school districts’ STEM-CTE projects/programs funding proposals. In those efforts, he is working hard to build strong and sustaining STEM-CTE operational and systemic pedagogical “bridges and infrastructure” for the PreK-16 educational systems role in building and expanding the national STEM-CTE career “pipelines”.

The author of many newspapers, magazines, and journal articles, including two American Association for the Advancement of Science Journal articles: “Assessment in the Service of Instruction” and “Science Assessment in the Service of Reform.” Johnson was appointed a member of the NYS Education Department Commissioner’s Advisory Council on Equity and Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education (1989-1990). The recipient of hundreds of awards, citations, and proclamations, for example, Resolution of Recognition U. S. Senate Floor; Congressional Record-Senate; S9581; U.S. Member of the Senate; Mary Landrieu (La); The Global Diversity Innovation Award; World Diversity Leadership Council; Boston, Mass; U.S. Department of State Award: “For Contributions Fostering Global Understanding Through Language Learning and Support of the National Security (Chinese) Language Initiative,” Washington DC. Multiple Proclamations in Recognition of Dedication and Excellence in Education, U.S. House of Representatives, NYS Senate, NYS Assembly, and the City Council of New York.

As a principal, he created the first majority Black and Latino students national F.I.R.S.T. Robotics and Cyberforensics academic competition teams. As a superintendent, he extended STEM learning to the early childhood, elementary, and middle school levels by building dedicated applied STEM Labs and assigning specially selected and professionally developed science teachers to those labs. As a superintendent, he also provided access to larger numbers of Black and Latino students to the district’s expanded Gifted and Talented, International Baccalaureate (IB), and Advanced Placement (AP) programs; while building lower-grades “STEM capacity” by significantly “ramping up” the quality and efficacy of elementary mathematics education; thus having more students prepared to take 8th-grade Algebra (the “STEM gatekeeper”).

He is a former NYC Mayoral appointee as a Trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library. Instrumental in leading the designing, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. In addition, Johnson has served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.; and is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

A low political risk but high educational reward initiative the next NYC mayor can easily institute…

The next NYC mayor should extend K-8 Gifted & Talented opportunities to very deserving & capable Black & Latino students.

High Educational Reward: Large numbers of NYC’s Black and Latino students would receive high expectations and high-quality levels of a dynamic teaching and learning experience. This G&T exposure would immediately lead to a rise in student academic achievement profiles and performances in the present Gifted & Talented (G&T) ‘desert’ (exciting and advanced education deserted) parts of the city. And to interject a positive political reward, this action would provide whoever the chancellor is with an opening ‘raising of achievement scores’ good-news-story victory. Most important, These students could take and pass algebra-1 by the end of the 8th grade, thus positioning them to advantageously pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) college major path and career. Further, they would also be prepared by the end of 8th grade to do well on any standardized exams they take; and succeed academically in whichever NYC high school they attended. A political advantage (I know in NYC that’s important) is that many of the city’s most vocal advocates for maintaining the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) have fortunately gone on new media record as supporting the raising of the quality of the pre-SHSAT taking (K-7) learning standards, and the expanding of G&T programs access to more of NYC’s Black and Latino students. Those passionate public pronouncements (even if they were insincere and self-serving) would make any opposition on their part to the expansion of G&T programs to Black and Latino students a politically and morally contradictorily problematic stance to take.
Finally (assuming this means anything to NYC’s elected, appointed, and otherwise recognized leaders), this move would make large numbers of Black and Latino parents happy and positively hopeful of their children’s future.

Low Political Risk: If it is done right, and I will later explain what ‘done right’ means; the United Federation of Teacher’s (UFT) won’t be happy. And they will play their ‘best interest of the children’ nullification card with many NYC/NYS elected officials. And even if they do mount a Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) or other legal venue challenges to the initiative, let them defend in the legal courts and in the court of public opinion why they believe that able and very capable Black and Latino children don’t matter! However, the offsetting good news is that even if the Council of Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) is quiet about the plan, trust me, the NYCDOE’s rank & file principals and assistant principals (and many teachers) will be ecstatic about this G&T expansion initiative!

I fully understand the “attractive-headline” and “lead-story” challenges of the news media industry; so I can’t be angry with them for focusing their campaign reporting efforts on which NYC mayoral candidate will (pick one) 1. ‘defund,’ 2. ‘refund,’ or 3. ‘more-fund’ the NYC police department (NYPD). And I guess it’s irrelevant that several of the candidates don’t seem to have a grasp of the general or NYPD portion of the very complex NYC budget; or are unable to adequately explain how NYPD services are integrated with other city agencies (e.g., Mass Transit, etc.), or the NYPD’s role in supporting the extremely important (for employment and tax revenue generation purposes), NYC’s tourism, restaurant, commercial and entertainment industries. Or, finally (and not diminishing the seriousness of the too often occurring ‘high-profile’ subway shoving incidents), the news media has failed to force the candidates to specifically pay attention to the #1 victims of NYC crime, Black and Latino citizens; who in many cases are under daily pedeocratic siege. (Except for Eric Adams speaking unasked), there has not been a line of press inquiry that responds to those communities who are most suffering from crime, especially concerning their urgent request for more and better (serve and protect, not occupation style) NYPD services. The other mayoral candidates, intellectually lazy avoiding-the-elephant-in-the-room (the elephant being an educational system that favors adult employment and satisfaction over student academic success) focus, is around the “restricting or expanding” of charter schools. Of course, expansion could help a few parents. Still, a decision, either way, won’t make even a slight statistical educational impact for the majority of NYC’s one million-plus student population who won’t be attending a charter school. The charter school expansion/restriction debate could be an interesting analytical discussion if the real reasons that charter schools even need to exist were the theoretical foundations of the conversation, but that’s not the case. The NYC charter schools mayoral candidate’s debate, generally speaking, in its present form is terribly inauthentic, albeit a politically attractive target of conversation. However, in the current format, charter school conversations are dangerously distracting from the necessary confronting of the fundamental issues that plague NYC public education. But I digress.

Applying the most fundamental “law of parsimony” to organizational change: The ‘game’ only really changes when the leader is willing to make real ‘game-changing’ decisions…

One of my first acts after being appointed (2000) by then Chancellor Harold Levy to clean up and educationally refocus the badly educational leadership abused and neglected Community School District 29 Queens (CSD29Q) was to dramatically expand the number of G&T classes in the district. And so, here comes the ‘done right’ part. The prospective G&T teachers in CSD29Q were selected and assigned based on their completion of a G&T professional development program and a highly effective instructional performance history review, aligned with principal recommendations and utilizing formal observation ratings; which was followed up by a district-level (including me) staff person doing an observation of the teacher. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards graduates were particularly sought out as candidates. Seniority (building or system) was not a factor (most teachers actually respected the fairness of that aspect of the selection process) in our selection decisions. In fact, some teachers had less than 5 years of teaching experience, but they were instructional super-star practitioners. I also provided these newly established G&T programs with more funding for instructional resources. Each of the schools received additional art and music activities funding. Most were ‘gifted’ with a dedicated STEM-AT lab* and a specialized and trained dedicated F/T science teacher. Not making this up, but before my changes, “science teachers” in most of the district’s elementary schools did not necessarily have any serious expertise or professional training in science. In some cases, these “science teaching positions” were places to put tenured teachers the principal did not want teaching in any of the ‘testing-grades’ (which is ultimately all K-5 of them). Some of these teachers were actually good but did not have a dedicated science room or adequate funding from the school’s budget. Many of these ‘prep-coverage’ science teachers were forced (again not making this up) to travel from room to room around the school with their science materials on a cart, even when an empty room was available in the school building. And if you can believe it, these many science-learning negatives were operating in the face of all of the elementary schools in the district being required to face a 4th-grade state standardized science exam!
There was no accident that along with Math and Reading test scores, test performance scores on the 4th-grade standardized science exam rose dramatically in every elementary school in the district, and pronouncedly so in those schools with STEM-AT labs.
But it did not take long for me to receive a call from a central office NYCDOE official; “You know superintendent Johnson that you can’t on-your-own increase the number of G&T classes in your district.” I pretended to be shocked; “Really, I did not know that; you know I came from the high school division where even at the school level it is not required to get prior ‘central’ clearance to set up AP, advance, electives, I.B., and other special programs.” And me continuing in ‘I-had-no-idea’ mode, “Could you please send me the regulations governing the creation of G &T programs” (I knew there were no such regulations); and continuing; “And I’ll need someone from your office to assist me at the staff/community/parent meetings to help explain to the schools that have been designated, why the already allocated expenditures, and how the selection and training of the teachers could begin, but would now need to end; and more importantly to inform the parents, that those G&T programs that were promised to them would now be canceled”… If they did have ‘centrally mandated’ guidelines I had every intention, as I approached many NYCDOE “mandates,” of “making them work for children”; and so, I’m still waiting twenty-one years later for that callback! I learned early (as a principal) that in a mission undermining bureaucratic system like the NYCDOE; especially in a system that did not have the disentitled and disenfranchised children of the city as a priority, that in some situations, it was better to make an irreversible (politically can’t be reversed) bold ‘game-changing’ move on behalf of expanding student learning opportunities, and then after (if) you’re caught, sincerely apologize. This approach was far more positive and productive than asking for permission to engage in some audacious action on behalf of your students that would surely result in a negative no-can-do response. (but I still wonder to this day; who snitched on me to central? —— Not to worry, I have a list of likely suspects!)

But the NYC school system is not alone in failing to answer a core US public education question: “What do we do with the Black and Latino students who are on or above grade or performance levels, but who sit in a remedial, bad standardized-test-prep obsessed, school or classroom?” The short answer is “nothing.” The (politically safe) longer, more confusing, distracting, and non-productive answers are:

(1) “We need more integration!” A cynical idea because in most large (also small and medium-size) public school districts in our nation, we simply don’t numerically have enough ‘white kids’ to distribute around the system for integration purposes; and in some cases, it would be a busing nightmare (e.g., kids are riding buses for hours) to put every Black and Latino child in a classroom with a critical-mass (enough white kids to make the quality of educational services matter) of white children. Even if we came up with the most ‘inventive’ but not child-focused bussing program imaginable, the demographic and housing realities of localities like NYC would still require large numbers of Black and Latino children, at some point, to sit in classrooms composed solely of, or a majority of, other Black and Latino children. And even the expansion of NYC charter schools (based on their present NYC and national racial demographic profiles) would increase the number of highly racially segregated schools. The problem is that public schools are being unfairly asked to solve a societal racial and socio-economic segregated housing problem, a task for which they are neither structurally equipped nor have the resources to successfully pull off.

However, as professionals, we should be ashamed to say or have non-educational political actors say on our behalf that: “The only way a Black or Brown child can receive a quality education in our school system is if they are sitting in a majority white student classroom!” For sure, there are many enrichment learning advantages for any student who attends a culturally, ethnically, and socio-economically diverse school and classroom. But a school district that is serious about its professional moral responsibility to children must seek to diversify the quality of education so that wherever a child attends school in that district, regardless of their own or the color of their classmates, their parents will be assured that they will receive the highest of quality learning experience the district can offer; and that we are capable of doing.

(2) “We need to eliminate “special programs and schools,” G&T classes, standardized admissions exams to specialized schools, etc.!” This pedagogically cowardly position allows a school district to avoid the real truth and reasons why such large numbers of ‘likely candidates,’ meaning those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade/performance level, are simply not prepared to perform well on a SHSAT or any standardized exam. And (after having painstakingly reviewed the SHSAT question by question) speaking truthfully, my professional conclusion is that it’s the lack of adequate pre-test classroom learning preparation and not the exam itself that is racist and discriminatory.
There is indeed more than adequate quantitative and qualitative data that professional educators could utilize to make the case that any ‘single-admissions’ measuring tool and criteria is grossly improper, educationally immoral, and ultimately a poor predictor of future student academic success. The “single admissions test or interview” theory is more of a measurement of the quality of parent-push, a family’s ability to provide informal (out-of-school) educational resources, access to good formal test/interview preparation, and most importantly, having received a quality learning experience in the years prior to the admission-test-taking day; all factors outside of a child’s control. These admissions criteria could very well obscure or completely hide a student’s true G&T qualities and potentialities.
But that most important factor (that “test-prep” can strengthen but not replace) of being exposed to the quality of pre-admissions-test learning experience is the one most avoided by the most vocal and animated opponents of the standardized exam admissions process (e.g., NYC’s anti-SHSAT folks). Their feigned ignorance or uninformed avoidance of that most critical of factors is because they know that the tackling of that issue would essentially launch the pivotal political decisive battle of public education, and that is: who does or does not receive a NYC quality education experience, and why!

Obfuscation and Misdirection as political tactics to maintain the status quo conditions in public education…

The “Woke-Ones” can, if they wish, work on social integration and the elimination of all standardized exams and specialized admissions assessments. I, however, would prefer that they do the much more challenging and dangerous work of eliminating the segregation of the quality of learning experiences that exist between students enrolled in the same school system (and sometimes in the same school building); a disadvantage that permanently assures that Black and Latino students will be academically unprepared for a world with or without standardized exams (although I don’t believe that in the foreseeable future, we will live in a world without measurable standards).
I realize and realistically accept that taking on such a brave and audacious effort would mean that any elected or appointed leader would be stepping into High-Political-Risk minefield territory; and so, pardon me if I am not optimistic of such serious game-changing policies being enacted. After all, returning to an extended version of an earlier question: “What will society do with all of those ‘school-successful’ Black and Latino kids?” Where will their jobs come from?” “Who will replace them as raw-material feed for our vast criminal justice prison system? “What would it mean for large numbers of competent, confident and smart Black and Latino students to be placed in a fair and competitive college and economic environment with the entitled children of our nation?” And for those news media darlings who want to “defund” the police; well, guess what, by greatly improving public education outcomes for Black and Latino students we would overtime ‘naturally’ reduce the number of police officers (prison cells, correction/parole officers, etc.) a city like New York would need. But I don’t expect that advocation to happen; after all, “Ensuring Quality Education for Black and Latino Students!” does not a viral “sexy-political” hashtag make.
This is why, for right now, I would place my very “low-bar” expectations on the next NYC mayor and other elected/appointed/annotated officials and leaders on taking the ‘safe-small-step’ of expanding G&T programs (in at least one or two classes) in every elementary and middle school in every G&T deficit-district in the city. And as we learned in CSD29Q; by placing a G&T program in one of our lowest-performing schools in the district, a cascading effect occurred that caused high expectations to rise and for high instructional quality to permeate throughout the school building, and this “G&T diffusion effect” was doubly effective in those schools that also housed a teacher professional development center—having models of teaching and learning excellence on-site provided those school-building administrators with an additional instructional professional development resource-tool in helping to raise the quality of teaching and learning throughout the entire school building.
Seeing schools from a district supervisory level perspective, you come to appreciate that individual schools have unique institutional personalities. School families can collectively either feel good or not so good about themselves. If all a school community hears about their school is that they are “failing,” “underperforming” or “a bad school.” Such a school family can start to believe that those negative labels are genuinely reflective of everything and everyone (students, parents, administrators, and staff) in and connected to the school building: “Those negative attributes are who we are, and we can’t do any better!”

We found in CSD29Q that by putting a G&T program in previously academically underperforming schools, immediately the conversation changed for the upbeat better about those schools, with its teachers, administrators, parents, students, and the surrounding community. Before introducing a G&T program, parents whose children were “zoned” for a particular school utilized ‘the-full-bag-of-tricks’ (I won’t mention them) to keep from sending their child to their neighborhood school. But after the establishment of a G&T program along with the many other exciting school enrichment resources, prospectively “zoned” parents were now inclined to not use granny’s address (oh my, I mentioned one) to get their child into another school in the district. Some of the new G&T principals commented that their newly minted G&T programs, other music, and art programs, and especially the placing of a state-of-the-art STEM-AT lab turned what use to be a challenging annual recruitment process into an exercise of pride and the proud promise to parents that their children deserved, and would receive the best the system has to offer.

The process for admission to a G&T program is not statutorily or regulatorily fixed-in-stone…

Like the absence of regulations that ‘fix’ the number of G&T classes in a school district; there are also no official-standardized guidelines for admission to a G&T or specialized school or program in a district; unless they are artificially imposed (e.g., the SHSAT) for political and non-pedagogical reasons. Any present “admissions process” is arbitrarily applied and is not the product of a research-based (and proven) process. For all we (professional educators) know, admitting students to a specialized or G&T program, school, or classes, based only on their performance on elementary and middle school state standardized exams or a ‘specialized test,’ might not be the best way to capture large numbers of potentially powerful highest-performing students across the district’s vast educational landscape; students who may have gone educationally and G&T unnoticed because they don’t ‘test well,’ or as a result of their zip coded limited learning experience, or their lack of access to parent-push-power, means that they (and the world) don’t get a chance to discover and display their talents and gifts. The present G&T admissions process is heavily weighted in favor of those children who enjoy solid and effective parent support; even the “admission interviews” are in many ways interviews of the parents (including the often unconscious ‘adding-of-points’ effect by the review team when seeing both a mother and father, presenting “professionally” while attending the information or pre-admission assessment session) and the learning quality of the child’s home life; not the child’s demonstrated or potential “talents and giftedness.” There is every reason, based on my 40 years of educational experience (and having observed teacher G&T professional development sessions) that any K-8 child on grade level (or even below) could benefit and thrive in a G&T instructional environment. In fact, my experiential observations reveal the opposite effect when there is no G&T differentiated learning intervention. When above, on, or slightly below grade and performance level Title-1 K-8 children are in classes with a lot of students who are struggling academically or who require a great deal of social-emotional support systems (often not available); this results in those above, on and slightly below students not being pushed and challenged to reach their next highest academic performance levels.
Further, the teachers in these types of classrooms (not uncommon in Title-1 schools), if not extremely highly-proficient, may find it very difficult to give all of the students across broad academic performance levels and counseling needs spectrums, who are sitting in the same classroom, the full instructional attention they all need; unless that classroom is specifically designed as a team-teaching (e.g., SPED/REGULAR-ED) blended classroom with full-time behavioral and educational paraprofessional support, and a comprehensively robust school-based counseling/medical services resource department.

Maintaining as both being true; two seemingly contradictory concepts…

I realize that I am asking a lot of readers by requesting that they accept my posing of two seemingly, on the surface appearing, contradictory ideas (a classroom technique teachers should utilize more often to grow student’s intellectual skills). One idea being that standardized exams are not a perfect or even a good measuring tool for admission to a G&T, specialized/advanced learning programs, or schools. But on the other hand, I am pushing for the immediate creation of K-8 G&T programs for NYC’s Black and Latino students who have standardized tested on or above grade level. I see this immediate and focused expansion plan (and its inherent contradictions) of G&T programs as a ‘first-aid’ educational response to the present educational trauma and high-expectations depersonalization situations these particular students are presently subject to daily.
Simultaneously adopting these two ‘conflicting’ positions is also based on my experience of having transitioned from a school-building principal to a school district superintendent. “It’s a different world than the one you came from!”; is the first song that came to my mind when I stepped into the superintendency. Significant effective changes on the school-building level have the capability of occurring quickly, quietly (under the political radar), and without the central office, politicians, and the news media getting involved. As a principal, many ‘things’ that happen in my school-building fell under the “we won’t ask, and you don’t tell us” rule. That school district-school relationship understanding worked because year after year, we produced high achievement scores in every school quality measurement criteria (and generated much positive press for the NYCDOE), from school-building safety and cleanliness to graduation rates, college admissions & scholarships earned, to our students’ successful performances on all (Regents to AP) standardized exams. In summary, we were able to engage in some “interesting practices” because, as a Title-1 school, we were one of the “best” (a chancellor’s words, not mine) performing high schools in a city with 500 high schools!
A school district, however, is another matter. A school district ‘change-action’ is like changing the direction of a giant ocean liner compared to a school’s ability to produce and maneuver ‘change’ like a speed boat. Any significant action, initiative, or project on the school district level will generate many active and vocal advocates and a likely cast of equal in number of passionate opponents, who will all have their own unique agendas, access to school board members, connections to influential and powerful political stakeholders, and even ‘contacts’ in the news media. And often lost in their demonstratively divisive or conflicting efforts is the possibility that the superintendent could actually be pursuing (without prejudice or political partisanship) a path that is in the best interest of children. However, a word to those wise principals with higher career aspirations; superintendents can’t completely avoid making a “greater good” decision. For even in CSD29Q, I had to put a G&T class and STEM-AT lab in a high-performing school that ‘technically’ could have waited until the next (year) round because the school’s well-politically-organized parents “protected my political flank” and made it possible for me to enact the G&T program district-wide and especially in struggling schools.

So as not to push the NYCDOE too dramatically and too quickly forward (public civil service systems can have bureaucratically inbred growth limitations issues); we should be willing to accept as a temporary G&T admissions and participation approach, one that focuses on those Black and Latino students who are on or above grade level based on standardized test scores, and teacher/school administrators recommendations, as initial G&T programs participants; these young people are presently educationally suffering badly by sitting in poor quality and severe under-learning classrooms. It’s a children saving triage move that admittedly has many pedagogical deficiencies.

The Hypocritical Hyperadvocates…

Ok, so this is where we will hit the liberal (both black and white advocates) wall. Some of my critics (in the past) and the newly recruited ones based on this article will say that this call for expanding G&T programs harms struggling, performing below grade level Black and Latino students in Title-1 schools. But their “tell” (and I always look for it) is that they, their children or their family and neighbors children, presently or in the past, enjoyed some type of G&T high-expectations rigorous academic program experience, even if those programs were not labeled “G&T.” These (in deeds) G&T entitled programs or specialized schools have as their daily basic-floor-standard, the drawing out and development of their students best talents and gifts; and most important is the school’s instructional requirement to have high expectations (and thus high-efficacious behaviors on the part of the teaching staff), for all students, as a core uncompromising operating school culture attribute.

I have visited many entitled public and prestigious private PreK-12 schools serving the entitled in this nation; while school administrators, staff members, and parents connected to those schools may rail against and perhaps even discourage the taking of state standardized exams; they are at least in one essential way, right. Their state’s ‘Core Curriculum Standards’ are far below their school-based teaching and learning (and internal assessments) standards; therefore, having to spend an excessive amount of time preparing for the syllabus, unique ‘rubric-language-styles’ of the questions, and the test format structures of state standardized exams will slow down their ‘authentic’ learning process. But for many unfortunate disentitled public school children living in the wrong zip code or skin color, just being able to learn and master ( at a proficient or highly proficient level) a state’s subject/content areas Core Curriculum Standards by their 3rd, 4th, 6th or 8th grades, at or above grade/performance levels, would be the equivalent of those students winning a public education lottery. This is why an even greater G&T educational experience would take many of those same disenfranchised students to national and international academic peer competitive stratospheric learning levels! But even this approach is only a temporary measure to stop the low-quality-learning ‘bleeding’ that’s destroying large numbers of NYC’s on and above grade and performance level Black and Latino students. Ultimately, a school system must be ethically committed to providing G&T techniques and practices in every school and classroom in the city; but that is an action that would invite a whole new dangerously high level of political risk for any mayor or chancellor.

*Working with the Scantek corporation, a company that traditionally developed high school and college-level Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) hands-on Applied Technology (AT) labs; we designed a new curriculum (aligned with the 4th-grade state science exam), lab projects, activities, components and teacher professional development programs for a Pre-K-5 and middle school grades appropriate models of their H.S./college AT labs.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

The art and craft of being an effective principal is to be political without being political.

A very common education bad news media story lead that is usually some version of :

“Principal in trouble, for saying, writing or engaging in some ‘overt’ political act, in the context of their official work role… The principal “took-sides” in a foreign political or military conflict… As a result of the principal’s actions… ”.

Usually, if a principal is asked to apologize for a mistake publicly, they will—to keep their job. But the principal’s coach (the superintendent) can’t only be concerned about the bad publicity or ‘punishment’ aspects of the incident. Instead, the superintendent must also focus on professionally developing the principal’s judgment capabilities and school leadership skills.

As a superintendent, I always coached and cautioned principals to execute extreme judicious behavior and be both words and phrases careful about what they put in any memo. “You should assume,” I warned, “That your memo will be made public and/or leaked to the news media!”. There are also many potential legal implications (e.g., labor-contract laws, lawsuits, etc.) relating to what a principal commits to writing. I’ve seen Special Education lawyers eat principals alive (and by unhappy extension also me, the superintendent) for what a principal unwisely put in writing.

It is much easier to defend your intent in the face of a bad outcome when the ‘delivery system’ is verbal (although you should also be careful with your spoken words) by ascribing any problems that arise to linguistic misinterpretations and misunderstandings. However, this corrective (or retreat path) option is removed from you when your words are permanently written on paper or in an email. In terms of memos generally, “make them rare and absolutely necessary,” was the advice a veteran senior principal gave to my rookie principal-self; and for the next ten years, after I received that wise counsel, I wrote so few memos that even today I could almost remember all of them!

The myth of public education being politically neutral; and the hypocrisy of accusing principals of being political.

Ok, let’s start with a logic exercise:
Public Education is a political act. If there is any confusion about this statement, then I would call your attention to the issues of: “Specialized Schools,” — “Gifted & Talented Classes,” — “Advanced and Enrichment Programs,” — “Highly-Effective Large Quantities of Quality Learning,” and the “Schools and School Districts Resources Gaps;” all controversies presently occurring in many school districts across this nation. Who does and does not (as in zip codes, communities, socio-economic class, ethnicities, etc.) receive the best positive learning benefits from public education is a political decision.

Now, don’t get distracted by the faux and insincere angst over the present Asian student’s doing-well success story with the NYC Specialized High School Exam (SHSAT). This success story was not the result of an Asian community ‘political power move.’ The SHSAT was an initially designed “gate-keeper” (for segregation and quality education purposes) to benefit NYC’s 1970’s white (not Asian) student population. Asian students’ success, in this case, is a flukey and accidental exception to the Political Power = Quality Education rule. Generally speaking, the parents with the most political power (entitled or acquired) consistently get the most (best) beneficial efforts and outcomes for their children from their public education system; this is even true if the levers of governmental political power are controlled either locally, statewide, or nationally, by people who look like (e.g., Black & Latino) the children who are on the short-end of receiving the positive public education benefits. If you are still not clear on this question as to whether public education is a political act; one can simply count the number, starting with the US secretary of education, down to the thousands of elected local school board members; those people who are the political stakeholding governance officials (elected and appointed), who influence or control public education policy. I would include here the many powerful and influential political players (e.g., teacher’s unions or the “billionaires donor club”) who, to borrow from one of the old-folks sayings, will “throw harmful education policy rocks, but then hide their hands!”

Therefore,
Principals are necessarily political ‘agents’ with ‘officially’ limited agency in the public education political process. In such a highly-hyper-politized unjust and unfair system, the only professionally ethical extraofficial option available to principals is to insurgently counterbalance the advantages of the powerful and dismantle the disadvantages of the powerless. These actions should represent the bulk of the principal’s pedagogical and operational focus; and, if done correctly, should (especially in a Title-1 school) take up most of your working time and attention. Multitasking skills notwithstanding, as a Title-1 principal, I actually needed more than 24 hours in a day (like 34!) to save more kids. And for the record, personally, I am sensitive to whatever struggles the people of Wales might be facing, as well as the plight of the ocean whales; but there was only one of me in the building, and so much that needed to be done; therefore, I had no extra time to solve the problems of the near east, middle east or far east.

The ‘world’ was in a difficult place when you assumed your principalship. It will probably (without Devine intervention) be in a difficult place when you leave your position. The problems of our nation and the planet are too big and too numerous for any single or group of principals to solve. However, what you can definitely do for children (and win at doing it), is to change, in their favor, the national and world access to intellectual growth opportunities options for each of your students.
Let the specialized professional political activist solve the world’s problems. Your professional political activism should be focused on changing the negative trajectory world your students have been societally selected to suffer. The most revolutionary thing you can do for a disinherited and disentitled school child is to give them, through academic achievement empowerment, a vastly improved possibility for future life survival and success.
Granted, this is not social media or hashtag ‘sexy’ (on the contrary, it will probably result in you receiving some painful political wounds). Still, it’s what your students desperately need from you. These are the children for whom public education is their only good-and-real-shot at realizing family status improvement, acquiring a bright and promising future, or those who need to break what could be debilitating generational chains of disappointment, despair, and destitution.

In the soul-lifting words of Al Green: “Let’s Stay Together” — and focused on the school’s mission!

Principals are the leaders of the adults (not just the children) in the school building. These adults represent many different political views, ethnicities, religions (or no religion), personal philosophies, cultural and family experiences. An effective principal will keep their staff focused, not on the external political-world issues that might divide them, but rather on the internal challenges that will unite them in wanting to provide the maximum level of quality education to all of the students in the building. Be the student-success bound school-ship’s guiding rudder, not its sails that react to every political wind blowing in the world. One of my all-time favorite principal responses to the never-ending parade of planetary issues: “Let’s stay focused on our students folks!”

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing (Fall 2021) his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.

“10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School”– But what does that mean?

3/20/2020 –NY Times;This Year, Only 10 Black Students Got Into N.Y.C.’s Top High School :https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/19/nyregion/nyc-schools-numbers-black-students-diversity-specialized.html?action=click&module=Latest&pgtype=Homepage

“Asian students make up a majority of the schools’ enrollment.”

Just Great, what we really needed now, along with the daily POTUS racist insults press briefings; another nonsensically contrived reason to be angry with Asians.

At some point (and I’ll just keep saying this until they put me in the retired superintendent’s rubber room), a significant segment of NYC’s Black and Latino citizenry will come to understand that no test-prep program, regardless of its good intentions and accessibility, can substitute for actual K-8 learning concepts and skills mastery. I have practically run out of metaphors like: giving a nursing certification exam to someone who has not spent a day in a nursing program; giving the Bar exam to people who did not attend law school; giving free shoe shines to people who don’t have shoes. I am not sure what more I can say at this point!

Test-prep is an excellent ‘technical’ and study tool that can absolutely raise the potential score of anyone who engages it. But as a Saturday Princeton Review SAT prep-course coach once warned my students: “I will help you to get a higher score on the exam, but you must continue to study hard!” What she did not say that is also true, is that you must bring ‘something’ to the test-prep process; and fortunately for my students (as the SAT coach offered as a compliment to them at the end of the course), they brought an everyday experience of being exposed to rigorous formal and informal standards based learning activities. Our finals, midterms and weekly classroom exams consisted of questions directly (word for word) lifted from past State Regents Exams, while inviting standards (and above) rigor in non-standardized testing courses. We were accused by some liberals of ‘teaching to the test’; when in fact we were providing our students with the same level of quality instruction their children enjoyed, we were teaching and learning to the standards. That’s how you get Black and Latino children to do well on standardized exams; you actually teach them to the level of standards that the exam will test. You can’t do well on an 8th grade exam, by ‘prepping’ in middle school; the real rigorous learning (aka test-prep) for that exam starts in Kindergarten and consistently continues every year until the 8th grade.

“Some of the schools’ relatively few black and Hispanic students have said they often feel isolated in their classrooms and hallways because of their race.”

Over the next few months we will hear the ‘integration’, ‘segregation’ and ‘diversity’ bell distractedly rung over and over again. Asian-American students will (because of adolescent psychology) feel that they did something wrong, when they have done exactly what the adult society has told them to do— and that is to study hard, sacrifice some ‘fun time’ and apply themselves. They will also be made to feel like ‘outsiders’ in their own city; Black and Latino people (remember “stop and frisk” and “gentrification”) should know how painful that feels, and therefore should be the last ones to engage in that ugly ‘outsidering’ and ‘blame-game’ behavior.

“This year, as last year, only one black student got into Staten Island Technical High School.”

Sadly, this same NY Times article could be used year after year, for the last (and frighteningly next) ten years, all that is needed is to simply change the dates. This is the low-expectations (Black and Latino brains are less than capable) story-line that will continue to reappear until (1) Black and Latino communities push their leaders; many of whom are tied at the waist (or by the neck) to the Teacher’s Union (UFT), and force (by political and active protest) the NYCDOE to provide their children with a quality K-8 education that test-prep programs could truly enhance; and secondly, to expand Gifted and Talented programs to the presently chronically undeserved Black and Latino elementary students who are on or above grade level. It has been demonstrated that many of these Black and Latino non-G&T classes elementary school students are so smart and capable, that they could even pass high school Regents exams; and so where are their G&T programs? (2) I love Public Education, but no community should depend on any public school system to adequately, let alone fully educate their children; especially if you are not part of the ‘entitled class’; something many Asian-American parents seem to get. (3) The beauty of NYC’s size is that a student who really should not go to a specialized high school (for a host of reasons); could possibly have a rich choice of safe and academically strong high school options. There was a time in the not too distant past, when not applying or getting into specialized high school was not a big deal and did not mean future career options death. Restore and strengthened a high school (independent of local school boards) division that lost so many of its accomplished and experienced administrators by way of Mayor Bloomberg’s destructive educational “school-reform” blunders.

“Black and Hispanic enrollment in the schools has plummeted over the last two decades in particular; Brooklyn Technical High School was 51 percent black in 1982, and 6 percent black in 2016. Only 79 black students got into Brooklyn Tech this year, down from 95 last year.”

Finally, disenfranchised communities need an intensive parallel educational system consisting of: An academically rich and culturally confirming pre-school start e.g. Little Sun People; after-school, weekends, school breaks and summer learning enrichment/enhancement programs; these activities should include a standardized test-prep component. Just sending your child to public school every day won’t work. For what part of: “Your children are not a priority”, is missing from your understanding of the public school education problem.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a NYC public school teacher, principal, school district superintendent and as an adjunct professor of education at St. John’s University. His book on school leadership is titled: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]

Eight Grade Algebra Gives Students an Important College/Career STEM* Start

Eight Grade Algebra Gives Students an Important College/Career STEM* Start

“Entire Bronx Success Academy class aces statewide math exam”: https://nypost.com/2019/07/01/entire-bronx-success-academy-class-aces-statewide-math-exam/

Deng Xiaoping the former architect of China’s present ‘market-economic’ system once said: “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice.” And so I am not engaging in the traditional vs. charter school battle here. For sure, I am extremely happy for these young people and their teacher. My focus is on something that many of us have been saying for many years. (I talk about this in my book) And that is the advantage that many students have in this nation over less-advantaged (but equally capable) students when they enter high school; and this is because the advantaged children have taken a high school level Algebra 1 course in the 8th grade. The first advantage is that these students are able to take Algebra 1 under very favorable and less-stressful middle school conditions (1) Adults don’t realize this, and most 9th grade students don’t articulate it, but transitioning into a high school setting creates various levels of stress for most students (e.g. new teachers, less ‘nurturing’ environment, the school’s size, they move from ‘top to bottom dog’, etc.).(2) Offering Algebra 1 in the 8th grade means that this course could be offered in an extended format (e.g. double periods, after-school, weekends, etc.) and a ‘comfortably familiar’ place, without competing with a full-program of ‘tough’ high school courses. In fact, we proved at the Science Skills Center pre-high school after-school program, that even earlier then 8th grade students, who are not facing extremely challenging courses in their regular school can focus large amounts of their intellectual powers (and do well) on a high school course and standardized exam for which they have been prepared. And on that note, (3) As was the case with Ms.Karina Mateo the Algebra 1 teacher for this great class, it is very easy to convince pre-high school students to take on the course as a mission of self-empowerment; especially when it is hinted that “people” don’t expect them to succeed. They very much want the ‘bragging rights’ to say to every high school kid they know and the entire world: “I conquered a high school course!” They will approach the mastery of the content material as if it was a personal and group challenge. (4) An additional important benefit is that these 8th grade Algebra-1 high achieving students are perfectly on track to take a regular high school or AP calculus course. This will then place them in an excellent position to not only do well in high school physics, but to also be prepared to hold their own in any post-high school college STEM major course.

We have known for many years that Algebra-1 is the ‘great gate-keeper’ either into or away from a STEM college career. But the ‘gate’ shuts early and often for some students. The problem is that students cannot take, let alone do well in Algebra-1 if they don’t receive a first-rate pre-Algebra arithmetic experience. And in my view the ‘planned’ real segregation of thousands of very capable Black and Latino students from access to a quality pre-Algebra mathematics experience (especially when it is offered in a gifted and talented program), is the real and explicit “bias” and ‘racism’ that should be addressed and eradicated by the NYCDOE.
The only hope for these children is if the Black and Latino communities focus, organize, agitate, and force their leaders to act as if they were not rhetorically hypnotized into only wanting a few specialized high schools symbolic integration seats for a few kids of color; but instead demand the removal of the real (and not meaningless ‘made-for-dramatic-effect’) discrimination barriers that prevent Black and Latino children from receiving a first-class K-8 mathematics education. We know the NYC mayor can quote Che Guevara, now let’s see if we can get him to follow the words of Jaime (Stand and Deliver) Escalante!

“If we expect kids to be losers they will be losers; if we expect them to be winners they will be winners. They rise, or fall, to the level of the expectations of those around them, especially their parents and their teachers.”— Jaime Escalante

Michael A. Johnson has served as a NYC public school teacher, principal, school district superintendent and as an adjunct professor of education at St. John’s University. His book on school leadership is titled: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.” [http://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/]

*STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics