Danielle Salzberg, a veteran teacher, administrator and builder of new schools, will be taking the helm at the newly announced Frank McCourt High School next fall. The application process for new schools occurs in February, after both the specialized high school round and the main round of citywide high school admissions are over. Students who are interested in one of the city’s new schools, like Frank McCourt, can fill out a special application during this final part of the process.
Salzberg recently spoke about the school approval process, recruiting staff and designing a curriculum for the new high school, which will be located on the Brandeis campus on West 84th Street. She urged parents with interest in the school to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: You’ve been working at the education reform group New Visions for Public Schools, helping them launch schools. How many new schools have you overseen?
A: I’ve helped start 10 new schools. I started a new school once as a teacher early in my career and then did the same thing again five years later and then started at New Visions. I’ve learned about the pitfalls and challenges of starting a school. I don’t think that means there won’t be kinks in the early years of Frank McCourt, but I do have access to a lot of resources.
Q: Can you take us through the steps of the school-launch process, which Frank McCourt is going through now?
A: First there’s an application process, which is a proposal that needs to be submitted to the Department of Education. It includes a mission statement and a vision for the school and a series of documents in which you articulate what the school is about. Once the school is approved, there’s a short recruitment phase, usually in February, during which all students get a second opportunity to look at new schools. So if they want to change, they can apply to a new school. After that, it’s like a marathon to hire staff, develop systems, do training and orientation, meet with students and families, solidify partnerships, ready the space and order supplies. Most schools do training for teachers in summer and have a short bridge for students or orientation in summer to get a jumpstart. And then the school opens with 108 freshmen!
Q: What are your thoughts on working on the Upper West Side?
A: I’ve been a 10-year resident of the Upper West Side. It’s a great, diverse neighborhood. And there are so many organizations that are incredible resources for young people and families who live here. The neighborhood is a great attraction, too, for kids in other parts of the city. There are so many reasons to come there: museums, cultural venues, hospitals and the university.
Q: The Frank McCourt School will focus on communications and civic engagement. How will that be reflected in the curriculum, and what will the math and science part look like?
A: There’s going to be a lot of literacy instruction, and also a big commitment to community service. It will appeal to kids who want experience with leadership development and who have an interest in writing or visual art or other kinds of media and communication—and those who are interested in trying a different kind of teaching and assessment. Grades will be done a little differently; we’re going to implement an alternative assessment program that will engage students in measuring their own progress. There will be independent study and an experiential learning requirement before they graduate. They’re going to organize their own project, whether it’s research at science lab or an internship in a newspaper or working with web development. They’ll explore a career path or personal interest in an academic way, which includes reflection and regular meetings with classmates to share what they’re learning. We’re going to have a very strong science and math curriculum. Kids who are most ready for college have experienced a rigorous four years of math and science; we will expect them to take four years of each.
Q: Frank McCourt will be a selective school. How will the admissions process and recruiting work?
A: Admissions will be based on grades, standardized exam scores, attendance and then a group interview to see how students engage with material, which includes an onsite writing sample. The school will accept applicants citywide, and do a lot of recruiting in the neighborhood as well. I’m looking forward to meeting with people at the local middle schools.
Q: How will community involvement continue moving forward?
A: My understanding is there already are committees and groups who have been engaged in this process for a long time. I have been meeting with them individually, and am looking forward to meeting them as groups and sharing ideas. The goal is ultimately to develop an advisory council for this school, a group of community members that meet regularly and work with the school.
Transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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