Principals of the Year
Harvey Katz, principal of P.S. 117 Keld/Briarwood School in Jamaica, Queens, says the key to success is cooperation.
“We are all working together,” he said of the staff and parents at his pre-K-through-6th-grade school. “The idea is communication.”
Katz encourages both students and parents to take an active part in the education process and wants them all to feel as though “they are stakeholders,” he explained.
“This is not a rich neighborhood,” said parent Lixu Chen. “Parents don’t have money for private tutors.”
But Katz makes the school like a second home for many children, she explained.
“He is very compassionate,” Chen said. “I wish every principal would work as hard as him.”
At P.S. 117, 77 percent of students qualified to receive free lunch during the 2006-2007 school year, and the school is eligible for Title 1 federal funding. But Katz insists that “poverty is not a basis for an excuse for not achieving”—and test scores have reflected that belief. Sixty-nine percent of students scored a 3 or a 4 on the 4th grade English Language Arts exam in 2006-2007, and 92 percent of students scored a 3 or a 4 on the 4th grade math exam that year.
Katz says he makes it a priority to help both children who are considered “struggling learners,” as well as those who show extraordinary promise.
“We need to look at children who are talented, and can go even further,” he said.
Katz has 37 years of experience in New York City schools, with a focus on elementary education. He came to P.S. 117 six years ago after serving as the principal of P.S. 174, the William Sidney Mount School in Rego Park, Queens.
“I enjoyed being with children and I wanted to help them grow and succeed,” he said.
Beyond textbook learning, the school has a vibrant arts program that includes major theater productions. Recent musicals have included The King and I, Guys and Dolls, High School Musical and The Wiz.
While P.S. 117 is only required to have a parent association, Katz has worked to build a parent-teacher association.
“Teachers are not included at many schools,” he said, but at P.S. 117, “the teachers have the right to speak and vote.”
Katz also works with parents and students across cultural lines, but he does not see those lines as boundaries.
“Our school reflects the great diversity of New York City,” he said.
The school serves families whose primary languages are Spanish, Russian, Bengali, Urdu and Tagalog.
“We get along very well and we celebrate all of these cultures,” he said.
Part of that is making everyone feel welcome, and Katz sets the tone by going to meet parents and children in front of the school every morning.
“I go out everyday and greet everybody,” he said. “It’s also a good way to talk to parents and share good things [as well as] things they’re concerned about.”
Katz also uses the opportunity to keep an eye on traffic in the neighborhood and other safety issues.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Katz and his colleagues are constantly thinking about how to continue making progress at the school.
“We’re not complacent,” he said. “We’re looking for new ways to build and improve upon our work here.”
Principal, Harvey Katz
P.S. 117 Keld/Briarwood School
85-15 143rd St.
Queens, N.Y. 11435
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