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Downtown High School Principal David Raubvogel Believes In Second Chances

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Students at the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching don't wait to be sent to the principal's office — they go there on their own.

Principal David Raubvogel invites students in with his open-door policy and easy demeanor, and his office has become a popular hangout for the teens during free periods and after school, when they ask for advice on school projects or just take a few minutes to chat.

Raubvogel, 53, head of Richard R. Green for the past four years and assistant principal for four years before that, took a circuitous path toward a career in education after nearly dropping out of high school himself. The experience helps him connect with his 600 students, many of whom come from low-income families in the Bronx, Harlem and Queens.

Named for the city's first black schools chancellor, Richard R. Green High School moved from cramped Upper East Side quarters to a newly renovated space in 26 Broadway last fall, giving students a gym for the first time.

Raubvogel, a Long Island resident whose 24-year-old son is studying to become a teacher, has a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in history from Brooklyn College, and an administrative degree from Queens College.

Raubvogel recently sat down with DNAinfo to talk about his memories of high school and his hopes for Richard R. Green's future.

Q: What was your high school experience like?  

A: I was constantly in trouble. I really just stopped going. I remember for some reason going back to my math class after not being there for months and feeling so weird because I had no idea what was going on, and I think I had lost my notebook. All of the things that my challenged kids go through now, I've been there.

Q: How did you get back on track?  

A: In the middle of the spring of 11th grade, I transferred to City-As-School. It turned me around and got me focused. Basically, you experience the city as a school. For social studies, I worked in the Better Business Bureau. For music and art, I built scenery at the Equity Library Theatre. For English, I worked in an elementary school in East Flatbush, and I loved it. I worked with second graders on reading and math. I was going home and doing lesson plans — I was really into it. I should have known then that this was where I was going to end up.

Richard R. Green students in the cafeteria at the school's new home at 26 Broadway.
Richard R. Green students in the cafeteria at the school's new home at 26 Broadway.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

Q: How and when did you decide to become a teacher?

A: It took me 17 years. After high school I went to Morrisville State College for two years to study musical instrument repair — I built guitars in high school. Then I worked for a national collection company for a few years, and I hated it. My step-dad asked me to come into business with him — he had a stationary retail business — and [at night] I went to Brooklyn College to get my bachelor's in economics. It took me eight years. After the business folded, 17 years after I graduated from high school, I finally arrived in a classroom. I realized then that this was clearly the career for me.

Q: What keeps you working in education?

A: As frustrating and exhausting as it can be, there's an energy in a school that you just don't get anywhere else. In offices, people just work on their own. In schools you're always on, and people are always working together.

Q: Why do you think your high school students are so comfortable talking to you?  

A: I'm not afraid to be real with them. There are a lot of teachers — and they're good teachers, I'm not casting aspersions on them — there are two people there, the teacher person and the other-than-teacher person. I've never been able to separate the two. I'm just Dave, and I can't be anybody else but Dave. There are days when that gets in the way, there are days when I wish I was Mr. Raubvogel, but it just doesn't work that way.

Q: Where do you want to see Richard R. Green High School in five years?

A: Every year that I've been here but one, the number of students starting in ninth grade who [go on to] graduate has grown. We're looking at a 71 to 72 percent graduation rate this year, and my hope is that it continues to grow, so that at some point, everyone who starts here ends up graduating ready for a career or college.

Q: What is the most important thing you want students to learn before they graduate?

A: Don't ever give up, and don't minimize second chances, because Lord knows I've had seconds, thirds. Life is made of many experiences. It makes us who we are.

The new school building at 26 Broadway has a spacious library.
The new school building at 26 Broadway has a spacious library.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro