Monday, November 26, 2018

The power of human connection in education

I recently read an article about the 2019 New York State Teacher of the Year in the New York State School Boards Association online newsletter.

After reading it, I shared this inspirational story with the educators in our district because it speaks to the power of human connections and the importance of building relationships and trust with our students.

Alhassan Susso teaches social studies at the International Community High School in the Bronx. The State Education Department chose him as New York’s top educator from a field of 200,000 this fall because of his innovative ideas that have empowered his students to succeed. In addition to teaching his regular classes, Mr. Susso developed a special course that takes place an hour before the school day begins. This course helps his students – most all of whom are immigrants – prepare for their futures by building leadership, communication and fiscal planning skills. Despite some initial skepticism by administrators, Mr. Susso’s before-school program has proven effective for students, as illustrated last year when every student who participated in the course graduated, and 97 percent enrolled in college. Read the NYSED Press Release: 2019 NYS Teacher of the Year

What set Mr. Susso apart is his powerful story of overcoming the odds to achieve success. He emigrated to the United States from a small country in West Africa at the age of 16. He battled a debilitating eye disease that could have left him blind, and the heartbreak of losing his younger sister to an illness after she was denied a visa to the U.S. to receive medical treatment. Rather than allow these circumstances to defeat him, he persevered. After finishing high school, he went on to earn both his bachelor’s and masters’ degrees and pursue a career in education where he has become an advocate for social emotional learning in schools.

A key part of Mr. Susso’s story for me was when he credited his success to the support of a teacher in high school whose encouragement made him feel safe and secure, and allowed him to thrive.

His story reminded me of our English as a New Language (ENL) students. Last spring, I listened as they shared the struggles they have had to overcome to get here. Some are refugees from war torn countries who have seen and lived through unspeakable tragedy. I also think of the challenges that many of our students face every day: hunger, broken homes, poverty, addiction.

It’s quite possible that we have an Alhassan Susso or two in our midst! That is why it is so important— and I will continue to remind teachers and staff every day — that the support of just one caring adult can make a world of difference for students who are struggling to succeed personally or academically.

We must practice patience, have empathy, and continue to set clear expectations that will empower students to believe in themselves and the value of education.

Search underway for new principal 

It is with mixed emotions that I share this other news: Elementary school principal Loida Lewinter has decided to step down from her position in January to spend more time raising her family. Mrs. Lewinter has been an outstanding school leader, who first served as the assistant principal at Watervliet Jr./Sr. High School before becoming the elementary principal in the 2016-17 school year. On behalf of the Board of Education, our faculty and staff, I wish Mrs. Lewinter all the best and hope she knows how much her leadership will be missed. Read Mrs. Lewinter’s Letter to Watervliet Families

In the meantime, we have started the process for finding a new elementary principal, which includes considering qualified internal candidates. I can assure you that our priority is to hire the best fit for the elementary principal position — one who will inspire, educate and challenge every student, every day.

Holiday reminder

With Thanksgiving now behind us, it is important for all of us to remain mindful that although the December holidays are an exciting time for most of us, that is not always the case for our student population. For many of our students, the holidays can be a time filled with great uncertainty and anxiety. As a result, some students may act out. I want to remind you that the best gift you can give them is your patience and compassion.

Thank you all in advance for caring about our students and recognizing how this can be a challenging time of year for them.

Finally, please be sure to mark your calendars for these upcoming December events:

  • Saturday, Dec. 1 – WES PTA Breakfast with Santa, 8:00 a.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 3 – WHS Student Council Holiday Food Drive kicks off, runs through Dec. 15
    Jr. High Student Council Adopt an Angel, runs through Dec. 21
  • Wednesday, Dec. 5 – WJSHS Garnet & Grey Winter Concert, 6:30 p.m., Jr. High Student Council Cookie Bake-Off Sale, 6:00-8:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, Dec. 6 – Capital Region BOCES Pathways in Technology Early College High School (PTECH) Open House for Grade 8 Students/Parents, 5:30 & 7:00 p.m., WJSHS
  • Saturday, Dec. 8 – City of Watervliet Tree Lighting, 5:00-6:30 p.m., Veteran's Park
  • Wednesday, Dec. 12 – WES Winter Concert, 6:30 p.m.
  • Friday, Dec. 14 – WES Holiday Movie Night, 6:00 p.m.
  • Monday, Dec. 24 – Wednesday, Jan. 2, Holiday Recess
Please remember during the holiday season to focus on the positive, and enjoy the most precious gift of all—time spent with family and friends. Happy, healthy, peaceful holidays to all.

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