Small MiraclesTC’s NAfET holds first-ever event in Harlem as the Small Schools Conference hits Manhattan
It’s become a major event on the New York City education calendar: the annual Small School Conference, in January and organized by TC faculty member Douglas Wood and his National Academy for Excellent Teaching (NAfET).
From a gathering of 80 people just three years ago, the conference—which has been held annually at the Fanny Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx—has grown to a 600-person event with keynote addresses delivered by the likes of Debbie Meier, mother of the small schools movement, and New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. The focus is on professional development across a range of subjects and concerns for teachers and administrators at small schools.
“Overall, we are trying to help smaller schools, which often begin as the vision of a single charismatic individual or leader, survive past their beginning years and become truly self-sustaining organizations,” says Wood, a former public school teacher who, prior to coming to Teachers College in 2004 was Executive Director of the Board of Education for the state of Tennessee. As head of NAfET, a literacy and whole-school development support organization that is funded Lilo and Gerry Leeds, Wood leads a corps of coaches who work with 16 schools in the South Bronx and two in upper Manhattan. NAfET’s goals are to integrate literacy instruction across content areas; to support instructional leadership development among principals; to support the use of differential instruction; and to support the induction of new teachers.
Because the conference has become so successful, this past winter Wood decided to launch a spin-off event across the river in Manhattan, aimed specifically at schools in Harlem.
“NAfET is trying to work more closely with Harlem schools, which is also very much in line with Susan Fuhrman’s vision for TC, so we felt this was the year to begin a Harlem-focused version of the conference,” Wood says.
The Manhattan conference started small, with just three schools—Heritage School, the arts-themed, TC founded high school; Central Park East; and Park East High School—participating this year. (Heritage and Central Park East are NAfET-support schools.) Still, the event was none too shabby. There were more than 150 attendees; Congressman Charles Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who represents most of Harlem, was the keynote speaker; Joel Klein was on hand to speak to teachers about self-reflective practices to improve teaching; and famed “slam poet” Taylor Mali gave a talk at breakfast. The many presentations included several by TC faculty, among them “Adult Developmental Leadership: Promising New Ways to Support Adult Learning and Development in Your School,” by Elie Drago-Severson, and “Literacy as a Pedagogical Tool in the Science Classroom” by Jessica Fitzsimmons Riccio.
“I thought Rangel’s keynote was especially good,” Wood says. “After I introduced him to the audience, he said, ‘Thanks, but you left something out’—which was the fact that he was a high school dropout. He went on to talk about that, and about the importance of ensuring that no student falls through the cracks, and of having that kind of work centered in Harlem.
“The fact that he came that day, when later that evening he had to fly back to Washington for the President’s State of the Union address, speaks volumes about the importance he attaches to education.”