TCCS Grand OpeningTCCS celebrates its new home, cheered on by the community and a cast of dignitaries
By Joe Levine
“Good afternoon, everyone. I want to welcome you to the Teachers College Community School’s permanent home. Thank you!”
Following those words from Principal Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, an audience of more than 300 parents, teachers, neighborhood residents, city and state dignitaries, and members of the Teachers College and Columbia University communities filled the TCCS auditorium with cheers and loud applause.
TCCS, a public university-assisted PreK-through-8 school run by the New York City Department of Education and formally affiliated with TC, admitted its first class – a group of kindergarten students – last year in a temporary facility. The school was designed in collaboration with neighborhood residents and fulfills a pledge made by Columbia University, as a part of the Community Benefits Agreement it signed in undertaking an expansion into the Manhattanville area of Harlem, to create a community school. The school's vision also integrates delivery of services for children and families in order to optimize educational opportunities and achievement.
Now serving 125 students in pre-k, kindergarten and first grade, and with plans to add one additional grade per year, TCCS is operating in a refurbished building located at 168 Morningside Avenue at West 126th Street.
For Worrell-Breeden, the new home is simply the icing on the cake.
“I’ve been quoted on numerous occasions saying that this is the school of my dreams, and it may sound a little like a cliche, but there a million reasons why I feel, as any administrator would, that this is really the school of any administrator’s dreams,” she said, beaming. She proceeded to enumerate several of the most important ones, including her team of “fantastic and dedicated teachers,” the school’s parent community, and the support TCCS has received from Teachers College’s faculty and students.
TC President Susan Fuhrman also spoke of hopes achieved.
“When I took on the presidency of the world’s oldest, largest and best school of education, I had several dreams,” said Fuhrman, who spearheaded the launch of a university-assisted neighborhood public school in West Philadelphia while serving as Dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. “Today marks the realization of one of them. This is a dream become reality – a university-supported public school that will offer unparalleled education for the children of our community.”
Fuhrman extended a special welcome to “those of you who are in many ways the most important guests here” – the TCCS parents and students – and added, “It’s for you that we have worked to make this happen, but it’s only with you that we were able to do so. Our vision was to create a university-assisted public school that serves children in the surrounding area, where the college and the community together would develop a high-quality education program, and where, as a stakeholder in our community and as a neighbor, we would share responsibility for students’ educational outcomes.” TCCS – the centerpiece of the College’s Partnership Schools Consortium, which supports a number of Harlem public schools with similar education services – is the embodiment of that vision, Fuhrman said, “an example of what can be achieved through a close university-public school affiliation.” She added, to cheers, “Can you imagine the improvement we would see in public education in America if every university worked in concert with local schools and communities?”
Fuhrman acknowledged many people and organizations who helped to make the creation of TCCS possible, including: the Reverend Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, Chair of Manhattan Community Board 9; Kofi Boateng, Executive Director of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation Manhattan; Donald Notice, Executive Director of West Harlem Group Assistance; New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, who chairs the Council’s Education Committee; Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (represented at the event by Deputy Borough President Rosemonde Pierre-Louis); New York State Board of Regents Chancellor (and TC alumna) Merryl Tisch; New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott; Columbia University President Lee Bollinger; and Worrell-Breeden, whom she praised as “an intrepid, passionate, educator.”
Fuhrman reserved special praise for Nancy Streim, TC’s Associate Vice President of School and Community Partnerships. “Nancy has truly been a driving force behind this school. While everyone here today contributed hugely to this effort, without Nancy it would never have happened.”
After offering her own round of thank yous, Streim said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and then introduced a special video about the school, titled “A Model for the Nation.” When the video concluded with Principal Worrell-Breeden saying, “We did it!” as children are seen dancing in the school’s new gym, the room again rocked with applause.
The message that came through most clearly from the other speakers was that TCCS does indeed represent a genuine community partnership.
“TCCS illustrates for us the value of collaboration and it represents a triumph of partnership among Community Board 9, Teachers College, Columbia University and the Department of Education,” said Morgan-Thomas. “I can tell you that we at Community Board 9 – our Youth and Education Committee especially – have enjoyed a great partnership, full of respect, full of patience. Nancy [Streim] has worked very closely with us, has heard us and has always been willing to re-listen and re-visit situations that we were not clear in terms of our journey forward. TC has heard the needs of our community and been extremely responsive.” Morgan-Thomas said that TCCS “honors the spirit of the Community Benefits Agreement with Columbia University.
“We trust that the children from our district will receive keys needed to open their minds… to open their spirits… providing the kind of confidence that will enable them to swing open wide the freedom gates and access the kinds of opportunities that will assure them a seat at the global table, this year, next and year, and for always.”
New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright also drew thundering applause with his brief, poignant remarks.
“Langston Hughes wrote a long time ago, ‘What happens to a dream deferred – does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?’” Wright looked around the room and grinned. “No! A school gets built on 126th Street and Morningside Avenue!’”
Following the speeches, the TCCS first-graders filed onto the stage and sang accompaniment to recordings of Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “What a Wonderful World” and Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me.”
And finally, to cheers so loud that some of the children covered their ears, kindergarteners Two’Moons Fields and Najah Parker carried a giant ribbon to the center of the stage. Then, two first-graders – Mirelle Sarah Liimatta and Calvin Butts V (the son of TCCS Parent Association President Tiffany Butts and grandson of Calvin O. Butts, Pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church) – cut the ribbon with a giant pair of scissors specially created for the occasion.
Teachers College Community School had come home.
Read more: Teachers College Community School Ribbon Cutting
Teachers College Community School Finds Collaborative Success