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The Cahn Fellows Expand to New Jersey


Cahn Fellows Program

Cahn Fellows Program

TC's program for top principals now includes two from Newark

By Patricia Lamiell

Earlier this month, TC’s Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished Principals welcomed its new cohort of 23 outstanding school leaders for 2011-12, and for the first time the program will include two participants from New Jersey: Yolanda Méndez and Deneen Washington, both of Newark.

The Fellows program was created in 2002 to promote the professional, intellectual and personal growth of promising and aspiring principals from New York City public schools. Now Newark is joining the fold, and apparently city leaders could not be more pleased.

“They’re making a fuss over us,” said Washington, while taking a break from the Cahn Fellows Eighth Annual School Leadership Conference on June 10 at Teachers College. “We’ve received a City Council Award. It’s exciting for the District, an opportunity for other principals to benefit.”

Cahn Fellows come to the program eager to share what they learn with colleagues in their school districts. Each Fellow mentors an aspiring principal from within their schools, in order to maximize the benefits of the fellowship to the school system and to support a pipeline of strong leadership. Fellows also gather at a conference every June to share what they have learned and discuss other education issues.

Washington, who is principal at the Maple Avenue School in Newark, attended last year’s School Leadership Conference at the invitation of the director of staff development for Newark Public Schools. She said the biggest attraction of the fellowship for her is the opportunity to collaborate with other school leaders and to discuss various models of innovation for school reform.

“I didn’t think I had time, but I decided to give it a try,” said Méndez, principal of Roberto Clemente Elementary School, who is working on her doctorate in Education Leadership and Management at Seton Hall University in nearby South Orange, New Jersey. “This is a big deal, to open it up to Newark. It’s a tremendous, prestigious fellowship. I knew that it would be a great honor.”

The 15-month fellowship provides structured support, mentorship and guided learning experiences for the principals, who continue to work full-time in their schools. Fellows participate in an intensive, two-week summer institute, a weekend leadership summit in the Hudson River Valley, bimonthly study groups with TC faculty focusing on particular leadership challenges, and study groups and meetings with experienced principals. Alumni of the program stay in touch and continue to support each other’s professional development, and the program has regular workshops and gatherings for alumni.

Méndez said she was looking forward to learning with principals from New York City, where demographics and educational challenges are similar to those in Newark. “I don’t have a problem stealing from them,” she said. “If it works, it works. I’ll end up thanking them, and using it.”

She added, “Having TC as a supporting piece – that level of expertise – is rich.” She was enthusiastic about meeting professionals with “a passion for children; that’s really what we’re in the business of,” calling the Cahn Fellows “excellent individuals who have a focus on children.”

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