Catching Up With…alumni Jacqui and David Getz
The Getzes, Jacqui (M.A. ’85) and David (M.A. ’84), are discussing the finer points of school leadership when suddenly they make eye contact and start to laugh.
“The mommy otters?” Jacqui says. David nods. Their interviewer politely cocks his head.
“We were watching this nature show, where they spy on the animals,” David says.
“We thought the mommy otter was going to leave her kids to die, but no – she was just teaching them a life lesson,” Jacqui says. “Then she broke the abalone shell on her chest.”
David patiently spells out the connection. “So how can we help teachers believe that we trust them to let kids struggle?”
The Getzes are principals in New York City’s District 2 – he for the past 14 years at East Side Middle School on 91st Street, she most recently at PS 126, an elementary and middle school in Chinatown, and now at a new school in the West Village that will open this coming fall. She is elegantly coiffed, with spiffy outfits and tastefully chosen earrings and necklaces (she spent two years at the Fashion Institute of Technology and briefly worked in the garment district – “Plan B was to be an image consultant”). He is a bearded former playwright and award-winning children’s author (Macmillan recently reissued his 2000 opus, Purple Death: The Mysterious Flu of 1918) who confesses to owning one suit and not choosing his own clothes. She always knew she wanted to teach (“I like being a bit bossy”); he had a cosmic out-of-body revelation in an elevator while leading a group of nuns on a tour. She’s an organizer, he likes to get to know the kids; he agonizes over the city’s pre-set categories for writing teacher observations while she simply ignores them.
“This is a profession where you have to listen to people. Please don’t tell me you have to save the world. You’re part of a community, so come to learn.”
— Jacqui Getz
But if their styles are different, Jacqui says, they share a leadership philosophy that centers on engaging all members of a school community in dialogue.
“This is a profession where you have to listen to people,” she says. “So many people who apply are so self-centered. Please don’t tell me you have to save the world. You’re part of a community, so come to learn.”
“Some younger principals think they’re running a factory, and that it’s all about quantifiable output -- which is crazy,” he says. “Ross Greene [the child psychologist] says your influence comes from your expectations – but teachers won’t absorb your expectations, unless you mirror their experience, which is transactional. So you have to create a relationship.”
“Transactional” accurately describes the Getzes’ own relationship. There is a kind of Nick-and-Nora Charles quality to their exchanges – wry, affectionate, amused. They hold hands while being interviewed; they frequently use the pronoun “we”; and they don’t seem to argue so much as kick points back and forth until they reach a kind of consensus. (“You don’t mess with Jacqui,” David says. “You really have to bring your A game if you’re going to disagree with her.”) One imagines that growing up in the Getz household would be fun, though both say there is an ample eye-rolling quotient among their three children. “They’re like, ‘Could you not talk about school now?’” Jacqui says.
The Getzes met cute at Teachers College in 1984, where they were both in the teaching program.
“I was having a play produced down in the Bowery -- I gave her a flier and said, ‘It’s in a bad neighborhood, don’t come.’”
“He had bad hair and a Fu Manchu moustache, and I’m thinking, right. No problem.”
“Teachers won’t absorb your expectations, unless you mirror their experience, which is transactional. So you have to create a relationship.”
— David Getz
Both remember faculty members such as Fran West, Fran Bolin, Dorothy Strickland and Lin Goodwin who, they say, taught them to be curious, ethical and unafraid.
“It made me excited about being a teacher,” Jacquie says. “You absorbed a mindset of insubordination – not to trust government.”
And both say a similar outlook predominates in Manhattan’s District 2, where they have spent the balance of their careers.
“We’ve been allowed, for any number of programmatic and philosophical issues, to be ourselves, and not to be scared of anyone,” David says.
It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that both have played a key role in organizing a rotating district-wide student council that takes on real-world issues. Last year, for example, District 2 students created Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) at their schools – safe spaces for LGBTQ students to hang out and work together to promote inclusion. Students from David’s school wrote and presented a resolution to the New York City Council, asking for creation of GSAs throughout the city.
At Jacqui’s new school – known as 75 Morton Street, but officially named the Jane Jacobs School, after the late urban activist -- the community is already engaged. Parents fought for years for creation of a school that reflects the diversity of their neighborhood and have had a voice in everything from class sizes and admissions policy to hiring the principal.
“They put their sneakers on and they went out and did it,” Jacqui says. “I’m psyched.”
The Getzes recently went to the wedding of one of Jacqui’s former first-grade students. They also attended an induction ceremony for a new principal who had been David’s first teacher-hire.
“We’ve been doing this for a long time, so we know a lot of people, which is nice,” Jacqui says. “But one thing that offends me is when people say, ‘Education needs young and energetic minds.’ Of course every new generation is hopeful and wonderful, but you can’t sell short on experience. I feel like we still have something to contribute, even though I know we won’t be cool at some point.”
Like fall semester contemplated from the first day of summer, that day seems a long way off. – Joe Levine
Published Wednesday, Jun 28, 2017