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Cahn Fellows Honored

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Chuck Cahn

Chuck Cahn

Alan Cohen

Alan Cohen

Sandye Poitier-Johnson

Sandye Poitier-Johnson

Ruth N. Quiles

Ruth N. Quiles

Rima Ritholtz

Rima Ritholtz

On October 10, 2007, Time-Warner Inc. honored five New York City public school principals with the “Principals of Excellence” award. Four of these honorees were members of Teachers College’s prestigious Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished NYC Principals—Alan D. Cohen, Sandye Poitier-Johnson, Ruth N. Quiles and Rima Ritholtz. Chuck Cahn, founder of the Cahn Fellows program, will also be honored on November 13, receiving commendation from The Center for Educational Innovation - Public Education Association. He believes that the award truly belongs to the Program and its principals: “The principals are the ones who should be honored; they are the ones who inspire and serve our children everyday,” he said.

Time Warner Chairman and CEO Dick Parsons praised all five principals: “These extraordinarily talented and dedicated individuals exemplify the leadership qualities so important to the New York City public school system,” he said. Each award will include a $20,000 grant for the school, to be designated for use by the principal, and a $5,000 honorarium, which will go directly to the principal. More than 350 principals were nominated for the awards by either their peers (current and former principals) or by members of the school community including parents, teachers and community leaders.

When Alan Cohen, a 2006 Cahn Fellow, became Principal in 2003, P.S. 69 had been designated a School in Need of Improvement by the State of New York and was in jeopardy of being taken over for poor grades. He set about building a community—”a climate of open communication, sharing, collaboration and respect.”

“There’s no magic formula, but what I did give people were options and opportunities where they’d never had them before,” says Principal Cohen. He began reform at P.S. 69 with the implementation of conflict resolution platforms for teachers, students and parents. In fact, a couple of years ago on a visit to City Hall, a few of P.S. 69’s fourth graders told Mayor Bloomberg that they would personally help him resolve conflict at the office, because thanks to their school’s peer mediation program, they had “negotiation skills.”

Principal Cohen introduced a writing process across the grades that connected students’ writing to reading through favorite authors; implemented enrichment clusters in architecture, gardening, photography and journalism; and put into effect an extended instructional platform, with school beginning at 7:00 a.m. and ending at 5:00 p.m. Also offered were Saturday School, Spring and Winter Holiday Learning Institutes and a Summer Enrichment Institute.

The school’s most recent score on the New York City Department of Education Progress Report was 98.7%. In mathematics, student proficiency has increased more than 40% in four years, and when compared to their peers at similar schools, the students at P.S. 69 performed 121.5% better. In reading, scores on standardized tests have improved by more than 30% in four years. When compared to their peers at similar schools, the students at P.S. 69 performed 99% better.

Principal Cohen grew up in Brooklyn and attended New York City public schools. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College, holds an M.S. in Special Education from NYU and has trained at the NYC Leadership Academy.

Ruth N. Quiles, 2007 Cahn Fellow, has been principal of P.S. 131 in Brooklyn since 1999, when it had been identified as a School in Need of Improvement by New York State. Among the first things Principal Quiles noted was that the school’s English Language Arts scores were deficient. She wanted to know why, so she began poring over the test data and disaggregating it. She arranged professional development for teachers through the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and implemented a Writers Workshop across the entire school. This focus on writing began to show immediate results.

Quiles also successfully pursued a Magnet Grant in Performing and Visual Arts. Says Quiles, “When a student leaves our school he or she will have had the opportunity to explore a variety of mediums that they may use to express themselves and to be successful in addition to academics.” P.S. 131 now has partnerships with Studio in a School, Leap, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, Ballroom Dancing, and Lincoln Center, broadening the students’ exposure to the arts. During the past year, Principal Quiles has also initiated a system for providing intervention and enrichment based on the individual needs of students. One component of this program provides small group instruction to at-risk students at the end of each school day.

Sandye Poitier-Johnson, 2005 Cahn Fellow, has led the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change for 11 years. The school was among the first New Visions small schools (small learning communities), but it did not initially flourish as anticipated. In 1996, the school was scheduled to close. It was then that Sandye Poitier-Johnson, a special education teacher in Brooklyn, stepped in as principal. Today, the school boasts a graduation rate consistently 20 to 30% higher than the city-wide average. In 2000, only 9% of students passed the Math A Regents. This year, 82% of the students taking the Math A Regents scored at or above grade level; 89% of the students who took the English Regents this year passed, with 65% of them passing at the higher levels. The school has consistently met its targets for the State Department of Education and is a school in good standing.

Poitier-Johnson received an Ed.D. in Learning Disabilities from Teachers College.

Rima Ritholtz, 2006 Cahn Fellow, has also served as principal for 11 years—at P.S. 176X, the largest New York City school serving students with autism, from ages 2 through 21. The school’s 76 classes are located in four general education schools: P.S. 178X, P.S. 153X, I.S. 181X and Truman High School. It has been recognized by the New York State Department of Education as one of five schools in New York State with an effective program for students with autism. The school was selected as a Collaborative Community of Practice the first year the program was instituted in New York City and serves as a mentor school.

The school offers rich, creative, instructional programs with students participating in a chorus, drum line, rock band, flute-a-phone ensemble, prom and family camping trips. Community programs include the “Best Buddy Program,” a national program that facilitates connections between general education students and students with disabilities. And parents are offered monthly activities that engage them as partners in their children’s education. These include workshops, advocacy information, in-classroom activities, networking and recreational opportunities. “These parents want for their children the same thing I want for my children,” says Principal Rimholtz. “That’s the mission of our school. To give them a quality of education better than any student anywhere despite their challenges.”

The Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished New York City Principals at Teachers College, Columbia University is committed to recognizing outstanding NYC principals and providing them with opportunities for professional, intellectual and, personal growth. It was founded in 2002 as a result of the vision and generosity of Charles & Jane Cahn.

The Center for Educational Innovation - Public Education Association (CEI-PEA) is a New York City-based nonprofit organization that creates successful public schools and educational programs. CEI-PEA’s staff of experienced leaders in public education provides hands-on support to improve the skills of teachers and school leaders, increase parent involvement and channel cultural and academic enrichment programs into schools. CEI-PEA works with more than 220 public schools in the New York City area, as well as schools in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Paterson (NJ), Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

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