Each week, DNAinfo.com talks to a principal from one of Manhattan's public schools. This week, it's Marlon Hosang, 42, of the East Village’s Robert E. Simon School (P.S. 64) at 600 East Sixth Street. In the interview below, Hosang details how he rose to the top spot from assistant principal at the 325-student elementary school, and what plans he has for its curriculum.
Q: You grew up attending Catholic schools in New York City and started your teaching career at one. How does you experience there translate to the public school system?
Marlon Hosang: I think it helps me, [being] a native New Yorker. Although I went to Catholic schools in my elementary school years, I lived in a housing project and a lot of my friends growing up went to the local public school.
Kids are kids are kids — whether you’re talking public school, Catholic school, private school. We all have the same wants and needs and desires to be accepted, to make friends, to have good social relationships. That’s all a part of what we do in the schools.
Q: What was your favorite subject in school, and has it translated in any way to your educational philosophy?
MH: I liked math a lot, but then the older I got, the more I really enjoyed writing. I love writing — I love the beauty of the English language and all of the subtleties. It’s such an important skill, and I try to teach my students that.
If you can’t put down your thoughts on paper, its going to present a lot of challenges to anyone growing up, applying for jobs, writing reports.
Q: How has your own experience as a student affected your style as an educator?
MH: I’ve had so many great teachers, I’m really lucky in that regard. Whatever it is they said or did, it just clicked. My seventh-grade math teacher was wonderful, that’s what really turned me on to math. I’ll never forget just having the light-bulb go on, and it was so much just the structure of how she presented it. That was something I really needed as a boy, I needed that structure.
[Catholic schools] offer strict discipline, structure, but also the values. So many of the values that I learned growing up in a religious school, if you will, are universal. So I try to be the model for others in my school. Although I don’t have to specifically teach religious values, I think [it shows] in my behavior, because most of my students, if not all, come from a Judeo-Christian background of some form. We don’t teach religion here, but we can live it and be the model for it — because any religion is essentially being a good person and helping out your neighbor and being kind to the earth.
Q: How did you rise through the ranks in the public school system, after originally planning on going into the business world?
MH: I think a lot of it has to do with my own stubbornness. My first year of teaching, with no formal training, I’d like to say that I did a good job, but the reality is I probably wasn’t a very effective teacher year one, especially with no formal training in school or educational theory behind me. It was a very challenging year, so I wasn’t going to go out in defeat… [After teaching at a Catholic school] I made the switch to public schools. Some of that was financial, but a big part of that also was the kids. I believe in public education, I believe in what public schools can do to change a child. My passion is students who are at risk, and there are kids out there who need good public schools.
Q. Did your own upbringing in public housing in Hell’s Kitchen help you relate to the students in this community, which has a large minority and low-income population?
MH: I identify so much with my students, with the families, with the community. I really do believe that their story is my story — hopes, dreams, aspirations, challenges. So there’s definitely an identification and connection there with my story and the story of my community.
Q. How is the school growing and changing since you became principal three years ago?
MH: We’re very fortunate to be growing. We’re only getting more kids, and I think the word of mouth in the community helps a lot, because we don’t have the financial means to do a lot of publicity-type stuff. We have a good reputation in the community, and parents do come in and they do want to register their children here at P.S. 64, because of the reputation that we have and some other changes.
I see our school moving more toward a performing arts direction because we have such talented students. Some of the performances that we put on here are dynamite. We have a great stage, a great auditorium.
So we’re really putting in the structures to offer all of our students — from grades pre-K through five — some kind of performing-arts experience in each and every grade. That’s a big change just in my time here as principal.
Q. What makes your school different from others in the area?
MH: What separates us from another school, at least in our eyes, is we really have a lot of heart and soul — that’s a good way to describe it. The amount of love that we give to our students, it’s just so palpable. When you walk into the building, people tell me that they feel the sense of love and caring and nurturing. … Nobody does it better — I keep saying that to the staff. Nobody does it better than we do when it comes to that business.
Q. What’s the hardest part of your job?
MH: It’s difficult to be honest with folks. We have to be honest with the kids, we have to be honest with our families. It goes both ways, and I tell my families that every year — you need to work with us, you have to meet us halfway. You can’t just expect to drop your child off at the door and say OK, let the school handle it. It’s not going to work. It’ll make what we do almost impossible if we don’t have that parental support. So you have to be honest with parents, too, and sometimes you have to have those conversations with parents about things that we notice can be better with the relationship between parent and school.
Q. What would you do if you were Schools Chancellor?
Never, never. Don’t even wish that upon me [laughs]. Certainly it helps to have an educator as chancellor — that I believe in. Just listen to folks, that’s really the heart of the matter. Folks just need to be heard. And once you do that, wonderful things can happen, because then you begin the dialogue and the exchange of ideas, and everything can be negotiated.
Q. Have you heard from former students about the impact you’ve had on their lives?
MH: One of the joys of doing what we do — teaching — is when we get those students that come back to us years later, the delayed gratification I guess. … We have one graduate who is now shining in performing arts. He just emailed me a couple weeks ago to thank me. He’s performing in shows, he’s performing on TV, he’s traveled to Europe, Broadway. Definitely this kid’s going to be a star. He wants to come back and he wants to tell his story to our students at P.S. 64, and his whole theme is 'if I can do it, so can you.'
Q. What would you tell parents considering sending their children to P.S. 64?
MH: We know who we are, and there are plenty of great choices in District 1. I just think the solid work speaks for itself. We offer a great program, and I think the word is getting out in the neighborhoods in the community. … I think every school has its own identity and its own niche, if you will. I would say to parents, if you want a solid academic program but with a lot of arts — performing arts, musical theater, song and dance — then you may want to take a look at us.