Obama's Shout Out to P-Tech Highlights Associate Degree Model

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President Barack Obama: "Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering."

The president's acknowledgement of our school in his State of the Union address Tuesday night was a tribute to my incredible teachers and support staff, inside the school and out, the parents and, especially, the students who are trailblazers. They are the first to try this new model that I call hollege, four years of high school plus two years of college.

Obama echoed my belief that the associate degree should be the new high school diploma for every public high school student. Our industry partner, IBM, and college partner, the New York City College of Technology, are providing a tremendous opportunity for our students. We are currently in our fourth semester with 227 students. The demographics break out as follows: 172 males and 55 females, 85 percent Black, 10 percent Hispanic, and 5 percent Asian and White.

I am happy to report that 74 of the 227, or 33 percent, are currently enrolled in a college course. These results are an incredible feat for an open admissions school, which does not screen its students.

I see distributive leadership and mentoring as major contributors to our success thus far, and the key reason P-TECH has been getting so much attention. The triangulation of high school, college, and industry is challenging work; it requires all involved to move forward challenging business as usual approaches. For example, teachers’ professional development opportunities are enhanced by industry and college professors. Teachers also use blended learning. The teachers are encouraged to lead the school and live in the big picture.

Additionally, students have the opportunity to experience blended learning to help personalize their learning and, in many cases, they can teach lessons in class. They are also told that they are college students from day one.

The students have IBM mentors as well as teacher/staff mentors. We are currently in the beginning stages of a peer-mentoring pilot where the 74 students currently in a college course will adopt the remaining 227 students to try to triple the number of students in college courses.

The students are not the only ones with mentors. I am currently mentoring four members of my staff. Furthermore, two of my interim acting assistant principals I mentored through Baruch College’s Scaffolded Apprenticeship Model (SAM) School Building Leadership program. Last month, one of my founding school counselors became an assistant principal and, last year, I mentored Seung Yu, the founding principal of the Academy for Software Engineering.

The connection between leadership and service was at the heart of President Obama’s message. His message prompted many members of my high school class from 25 years ago to congratulate me which, in turn, made me recall a high school essay contest that I won. The theme of the contest: "Is the United States Ready for a Black President?"

His message also reminds me of the farewell promise I made on my senior yearbook page. It included the quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "If I can help someone as I pass along then my living shall not be in vain."

It is truly an honor to be the founding principal of P-TECH and it is through my leadership and service that I attempt to make good on my high school promise. President Obama's mentioning P-TECH in his State of the Union address encouraged me to keep dreaming with my eyes open.