Principal at Hamilton Heights School Values Collaboration, Creativity

By Jeff Mays on May 13, 2013 7:14am 

 Nicky Kram Rosen has been a New York City Department of Education employee for almost 20 years. She has worked as a teacher, staff developer, coordinator of the mentor program and gifted and talented coordinator, and now principal.
Nicky Kram Rosen has been a New York City Department of Education employee for almost 20 years. She has worked as a teacher, staff developer, coordinator of the mentor program and gifted and talented coordinator, and now principal.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — After a tough year in South Central Los Angeles as a Teach For America fellow in the mid-1990s, Nicky Kram Rosen believed she had made a mistake in her choice of career.

She returned to school to take the few credits she needed that would allow her to apply to medical school, but then something strange happened.

"When I was taking my last physics class I missed being around the kids and lesson planning, all the things that were so hard not that long ago," said Rosen, now 43.

She realized that she had felt stifled as a teacher who wanted to try new things. She saw a report on television about innovative programs in the New York City school system and made a decision.

"I said, 'That's where I want to go.' They were trying different ways of teaching kids and thinking outside of the box," she said.

Following that life-changing choice, Rosen has been a New York City Department of Education employee for almost 20 years. She has worked as a teacher, staff developer, coordinator of the mentor program, and gifted and talented coordinator.

Now she's a principal.

She's proud to tell parents that not only does she live in the same school district where her school is located but that she also has a daughter who attends public school in the same district.

Through creative collaboration she has brought Arabic and Mandarin classes as well as additional arts education to the school. When the co-located school lacked space for physical education, Rosen was able to secure the street next to the school as a play street.

"Even when I was a teacher I knew I wanted to have a leadership position because I had some ideas of how I would want to run a school," Rosen said.

Q: What made you want to become a teacher?

A: For my family, especially my grandfather, education was always a big deal. It was considered a lever by which you could have choice in your life. I went to a progressive high school in Santa Monica, Calif., called Crossroads. It reinforced a value in my household that education should nurture the whole person.

For example, I worked on the school newspaper helping with layout. I wasn't a great writer but I had a great sense of organization and project management. We should look at all of our kids' gifts and talents and make sure school it is a place where then can excel.

Q: You have used collaborative efforts to extend the offerings of the school. How important are those efforts to creating a healthy school?

A: We are a very small school. We have the staff and the families and everyone is doing everything possible to make this a great learning environment. Even with all that love and care we can be short on resources. When an opportunity presents itself to partner with great organizations, we have always been willing to grasp those opportunities.

When I was in graduate school, I worked at Morgan Stanley investment firm to pay for school. Young people and their ideas were valued there. The older, more senior people used their wisdom to nurture them.

Q: As a part of one of your collaborative efforts with the Global Language Project, every student takes Mandarin or Arabic. Why do you feel that is so important?

A: The world is getting smaller. We have students who come from countries where Arabic is their native language. We have students who come from countries all over the world. Many will travel back to their homes from the United States and they stand to serve as a bridge. Local problems may have implications outside of our borders. I want our kids to be creative, critical thinkers who are also collaborative.

Q: What type of principal do you hope to be?

A: When I first became a teacher and got excited about an idea, that wasn't nurtured. I hope I do that for my teachers. You can't do this job alone. It is not a one-person job. Success will come only with our ability to work together as a great team.

Q: What do you hope your kids learn while they are students at this school?

A: I tell students you have one job to do here every day, and that is to think. If you learn nothing else by the fifth grade I want them to leave being able to think for themselves. I have kids here that have so many gifts and talents.

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