Principals need to make decisions quickly and decisively. They are leaders and problem solvers and principal Anita de Paz was recognized for her work at her school, in Park Slope, and was selected for a Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished Principals at Columbia University’s Teachers College.
The fellowship is a ten-month program focused on giving outstanding public school principals opportunities to strengthen their school by attending professional development workshops and courses.
Principals who are nominated for the Cahn Fellows Program work with an advisor and professors to identify a problem of practice in their school they would like to improve on and then select an ally, or a mentee, who is an aspiring administrator in their school. Throughout the course of the year they attend professional development courses and workshops at Columbia’s Teachers College around the problem of practice and develop a plan of action.
De Paz picked her fourth grade teacher, Denise Racioppo, to be her ally and they will work to make their school better.
“It’s a way for the acting principal to resolve an issue in their school and to walk the ally through the process of problem solving in a real school setting,” de Paz said, who has been the principal of P.S. 39 for six years.
“It so the ally can walk in the shoes of a principal in a problem solving capacity. To be a principal, you go to school, take courses and learn things in theory, but this gives them the opportunity to work on something that is significant to the school that they work in and improve their school in a real life application,” de Paz said. “It’s more giving them the experience of what you have to do as a principal when you’re faced with a challenge you have to overcome: What steps do you take, how do you utilize your staff, how do you organize things and utilize your resources.”
De Paz has not yet fully developed what she will work on, but she will fine-tune the idea she has and work with her advisor to create a program to fix the problem she decides is the most urgent in her school.
The program has already started and the duo will do a week course work this summer at Teachers College and then have meetings and workshops continuing throughout the school year.
“It’s a big honor to be nominated. When I found out, I told my teachers that it’s really a reflection of the whole staff,” de Paz said, who was a first grade teacher at P.S. 39 for 18 years before becoming its leading administrator. “Principals lead, but they are only as good as the people they lead. I have a really great staff.”
Some people de Paz works with thinks she shouldn’t be so modest. The co-president of P.S. 39’s Parent Teacher Association, Melissa Williams, said that de Paz deserves the recognition.
"Anita exemplifies what it means to be a great principal," said Williams. "She is a strong leader with a clear vision about what types of educational programs are right the students of P.S. 39, and she always puts those programs first. We've always known Anita and PS 39 were special, but this great honor gives them the recognition they have so long deserved."
De Paz is happy about being selected for further professional development, but she is really looking forward to working together with one of her colleagues to solve problems.
“You know what they say, it’s lonely at the top. As a principal, you have to make decisions quickly and I don’t have an assistant principal at my school so I don’t have a fellow administrator to bounce ideas off of all the time,” de Paz said. “It can be isolating because you need to make decisions and they have to be decisive. This is a great opportunity for me to talk with other principals and other educational leaders to help me with something that I want support with.”
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