Freeing the College to Do
its Best Work

Campaign milestone man Ron Saltz is a believer in the TC Fund

When Teachers College’s Where the Future Comes First Campaign cleared the $200 million mark in July, no one was surprised that it was with the help of a check to the TC Fund made possible by self-confessed “TC junkie” Ron Saltz (Ed.D. ’11, Ed.M. ’95, M.A. ’92).   

The Fund, which raises more than $2.0 million from thousands of contributors annually, is the primary connection point for TC donors of all means. Especially important, the Fund provides the College with money that can be applied to any opportunity or need—flexibility that Saltz, a former teacher, principal and PTA president, can readily appreciate.

“The TC Fund gives the College real freedom to do its best work,” Saltz said in explaining why, for each of the past three years, he has orchestrated gifts of $200,000 from the Gary Saltz Foundation, a family foundation operated in memory of his older brother. The gifts are the largest the Fund has ever received. “TC is a far bigger organization than I can comprehend. It does tremendously good things, and while I can’t know what all those things are, I trust the people who do. It’s wonderful that a gift in my brother’s name brings the Campaign to the $200 million mark, but it only builds on the many gifts that have come before from other donors.”

In point of fact, Saltz, who serves as Executive Director of Replications Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping schools leverage their own unique features as a way of establishing “cycles of sustainable renewal,” has experienced a great deal of what the College does and applied much of it firsthand.

“I’ve been lucky to have several experiences at TC that have made me understand learning in a profoundly new and different way,” he says.

The first was the writing class he took with literacy guru Lucy Calkins during the summer of 1989 that inspired him to become an English teacher.

“When I decided to go into education, people told me, you’ll take classes and then you’ll teach, and there’s not going to be much connection,” he recalls. “I was stunned at how wrong they were—at how instantly valuable what I was learning at TC proved to be in teaching. Lucy, for one, taught me that it’s all about the kids. The books are nice, but it’s about using them to get to the kids.”

Saltz taught English for a few years at a prep school on Long Island but found that he was hungry to expand the range of his teaching.  After his supervisors balked at his request to let him become a science teacher, too, he decamped for the Children’s Storefront School in Harlem and returned to TC to take classes in science education. He subsequently became one of the founding science teachers at Heritage School, the Harlem public high school created in 1996 by TC Art & Art Education Professor Judith Burton and Trustee Joyce B. Cowin.  

When Heritage struggled early on, Arthur Levine, then TC’s President, met with the faculty and ended up recruiting Saltz to serve on his advisory council.

“I really enjoyed it,” Saltz says. “It was chance to kick the tires of what was going on at TC and serve as a kind of R&D advisor.”

Meanwhile, hoping to learn how to create better public schools, Saltz had also become a TC student again—this time in a doctoral program focused on teaching and learning in urban environments.

“I’d been a founding member of three New York City schools as either a teacher or an assistant principal, and I saw that while they got off to good starts, they sure weren’t the schools I’d set out to create, nor were they places I’d want to send my kids,” he says. “They were just ordinary, OK schools. I started out writing my dissertation about why that happens to new schools and how to make them better, and ended up focusing on student engagement and motivation. I worked with [Associate Professor and school reform authority] Tom Hatch, who taught me that a school is a system and that the system is only as good as the larger system in which it is nested.” Saltz also earned a certificate from the College’s executive coaching program, run by adult learning expert and corporate veteran Terrence Maltbia. “From Terry I learned to think about how teachers and administrators are affected by those systems, and how they can change them.”  

Three years ago, Saltz joined Replications as successor to founder and TC alumnus John Elwell. Created at the dawn of New York City’s small schools revolution, Replications has founded public schools in New York and Maryland, but is now focused on the development of “community schools” that serve as hubs of sustainable growth and renewal by offering a range of services to students and families.

“Schools are a very political facet of American life, and the politics of city schooling have become much more intense during the past decade,” Saltz says. “The principal’s office is the nexus of all those forces. A big part of my job is to help principals see that there are many more possibilities for creativity, rejuvenation and success than they may feel coming at them through their emails, the media and the voices of the administration.”

His main message, Saltz says, is that they have enormous potential to harness community energy.

“I tell principals, ‘Think of yourself as the town mayor, not as an instructional leader,’” he says. “We’ve gotten all kinds of people in the community to help us as volunteers, from a janitor who turned out to be a 15-year veteran of the Big Apple Circus to a former VP at Citibank who is now in charge of college prep at one of our schools. So the first thing I do is get the principal to slow down. We’ll just sit and talk for a couple of hours about who we are, our kids—everything but school. Because we’re people first, and we’re not teaching kids to be good math students or writers before we teach them to be happy, healthy, satisfied people. We teach skills because they can be routes to getting there.”

Ultimately, perhaps as a result of replicating so many different successful school models, Saltz doesn’t seem to believe that there is a single “right system.” That’s one reason why he’s such a passionate supporter of Teachers College.

“TC places a tremendous premium on individual thinking and creativity—people are constantly experimenting and learning new things, and yet the underlying values remain unchanged,” he says. “That really fits with my philosophy. Education addresses the question of what a good and moral life is and how to get there. In some measure the answers change from year to year and generation to generation, but in other ways, they don’t—there isn’t much that we know about teaching and learning that Socrates didn’t. The only way for us to get to where he was is to keep alive a spirit of thinking, creating and questioning. And that is what TC is there to do.”

Thanks to loyal and enlightened supporters like Saltz, it will be doing it for a long, long time to come.

(Published 7/23/2015) 

Published Thursday, Jul. 23, 2015

Freeing the College to Do
its Best Work

Campaign milestone man Ron Saltz is a believer in the TC Fund

When Teachers College’s Where the Future Comes First Campaign cleared the $200 million mark in July, no one was surprised that it was with the help of a check to the TC Fund made possible by self-confessed “TC junkie” Ron Saltz (Ed.D. ’11, Ed.M. ’95, M.A. ’92).   

The Fund, which raises more than $2.0 million from thousands of contributors annually, is the primary connection point for TC donors of all means. Especially important, the Fund provides the College with money that can be applied to any opportunity or need—flexibility that Saltz, a former teacher, principal and PTA president, can readily appreciate.

“The TC Fund gives the College real freedom to do its best work,” Saltz said in explaining why, for each of the past three years, he has orchestrated gifts of $200,000 from the Gary Saltz Foundation, a family foundation operated in memory of his older brother. The gifts are the largest the Fund has ever received. “TC is a far bigger organization than I can comprehend. It does tremendously good things, and while I can’t know what all those things are, I trust the people who do. It’s wonderful that a gift in my brother’s name brings the Campaign to the $200 million mark, but it only builds on the many gifts that have come before from other donors.”

In point of fact, Saltz, who serves as Executive Director of Replications Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to helping schools leverage their own unique features as a way of establishing “cycles of sustainable renewal,” has experienced a great deal of what the College does and applied much of it firsthand.

“I’ve been lucky to have several experiences at TC that have made me understand learning in a profoundly new and different way,” he says.

The first was the writing class he took with literacy guru Lucy Calkins during the summer of 1989 that inspired him to become an English teacher.

“When I decided to go into education, people told me, you’ll take classes and then you’ll teach, and there’s not going to be much connection,” he recalls. “I was stunned at how wrong they were—at how instantly valuable what I was learning at TC proved to be in teaching. Lucy, for one, taught me that it’s all about the kids. The books are nice, but it’s about using them to get to the kids.”

Saltz taught English for a few years at a prep school on Long Island but found that he was hungry to expand the range of his teaching.  After his supervisors balked at his request to let him become a science teacher, too, he decamped for the Children’s Storefront School in Harlem and returned to TC to take classes in science education. He subsequently became one of the founding science teachers at Heritage School, the Harlem public high school created in 1996 by TC Art & Art Education Professor Judith Burton and Trustee Joyce B. Cowin.  

When Heritage struggled early on, Arthur Levine, then TC’s President, met with the faculty and ended up recruiting Saltz to serve on his advisory council.

“I really enjoyed it,” Saltz says. “It was chance to kick the tires of what was going on at TC and serve as a kind of R&D advisor.”

Meanwhile, hoping to learn how to create better public schools, Saltz had also become a TC student again—this time in a doctoral program focused on teaching and learning in urban environments.

“I’d been a founding member of three New York City schools as either a teacher or an assistant principal, and I saw that while they got off to good starts, they sure weren’t the schools I’d set out to create, nor were they places I’d want to send my kids,” he says. “They were just ordinary, OK schools. I started out writing my dissertation about why that happens to new schools and how to make them better, and ended up focusing on student engagement and motivation. I worked with [Associate Professor and school reform authority] Tom Hatch, who taught me that a school is a system and that the system is only as good as the larger system in which it is nested.” Saltz also earned a certificate from the College’s executive coaching program, run by adult learning expert and corporate veteran Terrence Maltbia. “From Terry I learned to think about how teachers and administrators are affected by those systems, and how they can change them.”  

Three years ago, Saltz joined Replications as successor to founder and TC alumnus John Elwell. Created at the dawn of New York City’s small schools revolution, Replications has founded public schools in New York and Maryland, but is now focused on the development of “community schools” that serve as hubs of sustainable growth and renewal by offering a range of services to students and families.

“Schools are a very political facet of American life, and the politics of city schooling have become much more intense during the past decade,” Saltz says. “The principal’s office is the nexus of all those forces. A big part of my job is to help principals see that there are many more possibilities for creativity, rejuvenation and success than they may feel coming at them through their emails, the media and the voices of the administration.”

His main message, Saltz says, is that they have enormous potential to harness community energy.

“I tell principals, ‘Think of yourself as the town mayor, not as an instructional leader,’” he says. “We’ve gotten all kinds of people in the community to help us as volunteers, from a janitor who turned out to be a 15-year veteran of the Big Apple Circus to a former VP at Citibank who is now in charge of college prep at one of our schools. So the first thing I do is get the principal to slow down. We’ll just sit and talk for a couple of hours about who we are, our kids—everything but school. Because we’re people first, and we’re not teaching kids to be good math students or writers before we teach them to be happy, healthy, satisfied people. We teach skills because they can be routes to getting there.”

Ultimately, perhaps as a result of replicating so many different successful school models, Saltz doesn’t seem to believe that there is a single “right system.” That’s one reason why he’s such a passionate supporter of Teachers College.

“TC places a tremendous premium on individual thinking and creativity—people are constantly experimenting and learning new things, and yet the underlying values remain unchanged,” he says. “That really fits with my philosophy. Education addresses the question of what a good and moral life is and how to get there. In some measure the answers change from year to year and generation to generation, but in other ways, they don’t—there isn’t much that we know about teaching and learning that Socrates didn’t. The only way for us to get to where he was is to keep alive a spirit of thinking, creating and questioning. And that is what TC is there to do.”

Thanks to loyal and enlightened supporters like Saltz, it will be doing it for a long, long time to come.

(Published 7/23/2015) 

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