Alumni Focus: Helping A School Find Its Voice | Teachers College Columbia University

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Alumni Focus: Helping A School Find Its Voice

Former English teacher Rashid Davis has won Presidential plaudits for his guidance of a unique technology school

As a former English teacher, Rashid Ferrod Davis (M.A.’95) seemed an unlikely choice to serve as founding Principal of Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH). But since its launch in 2011, the school — the fruit of a partnership between IBM, the New York City Department of Education, and the City University of New York — has proved so successful that President Obama mentioned it in his 2013 State of the Union address and then paid a visit to the school in October.

“This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one,” the President said, calling the school “a ticket into the middle class,” and suggesting that every member of Congress make a pilgrimage to see P-TECH and its students in action.

Prospective P-TECH students are not screened and are admitted solely for their interest in information technology (grades are not a consideration). The school, in turn, supports student motivation by tying learning to clear career outcomes. Following a six-year course of studies developed in consultation with IBM, P-TECH students earn their high school diploma and an associate’s degree in applied science, computer information systems or electromechanical engineering from New York City College of Technology (City Tech).

For Davis, the President’s visit was a powerful validation of the school’s unique approach.
“We were just thrilled that our students have garnered enough attention for the President to come here firsthand and  see it himself,” he says. “It really makes us feel like we’re on the right track.”
Davis believes his TC background in English education helped put him on the right track, too. Under the guidance of “powerhouse” professors such as Ruth Vinz, he framed his mission as helping underserved youth find their own voices. As a participant in TC’s Cahn Fellows Program for Distinguished Principals in 2012, he also explored how athletic skills could help young men of color learn to see themselves as scholars and prepare for academic roles.

Earlier this year, Davis received the Lewis Hine Distinguished Service Award from the Nat ional Child Labor Committee in recognition of his work. While he is proud of the honor, Davis is prouder still that P-TECH provides an out-of-the box model for other districts around the country. In 2012, five P-TECH-styled schools opened in Chicago in collaboration with companies such as Microsoft, Motorola and Verizon. This year, two more schools modeled on P-TECH opened in New York City, with three more expected to open next year. Governor Andrew Cuomo has committed funding for more than 16 P-TECHs across New York state.

Of course, creating these schools requires a significant investment by both the public and private sectors. Addressing that concern, Davis quotes from remarks the President made during his visit to P-TECH:

“If you think education is expensive, wait until you see how much ignorance costs.”
—Kelsey Rogalewicz

Published Friday, May. 30, 2014