STATEN ISLAND — A lot has changed since Principal Vincent Maniscalco, 63, took the helm of Staten Island Technical High School, New Dorp, 11 years ago.
The specialized high school — which requires an entrance exam to attend — has opened a new television studio, added electronic "smart boards" to every classroom, built a new dance studio, and the school has become one of the nation's best high schools in just over a decade.
The U.S. News & World Report ranked the school 77th nationally, and 13th in New York — the only school in Staten Island to crack the top 100.
But Maniscalco, a Bay Ridge native, sees his job not so much as making the school follow his vision, but helping the teachers shape the school into their own vision.
"The teachers serve that gourmet meal every day and I add the salt and pepper to the recipe," he said. "I like developing classrooms around teachers, that meet the needs of students."
Maniscalco has been working in New York City public schools for some 41 years. Before Staten Island Tech, he served as principal of the Lower East Side Preparatory High School, a second-chance school for students ages 17 to 21.
Q: Were you ever a troublemaker growing up?
I think I was a dreamer. You can do a lot of dreaming in this job, and the nice part about it, especially being in a school like this, is that dreams become reality, because you have such a strong staff and such a good student body.
Q: What got you involved in teaching?
I guess it was my own passion for learning that wanted to keep me close to the academic center, so it was a natural transition.
Q: What made you transition into becoming a principal?
When I was there in the alternative world [LES Prep], they had an interesting ruling. If you were interested in becoming the principal when the principal left, you couldn't become the acting principal. So the other gentleman at the school wanted the slot, and I was very happy being an assistant principal, but I had to serve as the 'acting.' That person later on became the principal of the building and became the superintendent of Queens [schools]. And when he left I was like, 'You know what, it's not that bad [being a principal].'
Q: What makes this school different from other schools?
The classrooms in this building are very, very different in terms of technology. Every room has a smart board, every teacher was given an iPad. We bought tens of thousands of dollars of interactive programs so they can embed them in their lessons. The observations for the evaluation of teachers is very, very different from other schools.
Q: What's unique about your teacher evaluations?
Every observation that takes place in this building, I sit in the room with an assistant principal, and we both observe the teacher. I go in the room with the camera, and with the camera, I'm basically taking photographs of student works. We've also utilized a number of tools, one of them is datacation. In using this, it's an electronic grade book. It has become very, very instrumental in terms of assessment analysis. And in the post-observation conference, let's go to the photograph, let's go to the evidence in terms of student work, let's look at the data that's been produced in terms of the grade book.
Q: How is this school different from other schools you've worked at?
Coming here to the specialized high school brought new challenges in terms of 'Exactly how does the gifted child learn?' and 'What do they need in terms of advancing them?'. It's not only been being the principal, but it's been learning as I go along.
Q: What changes have you made since coming here?
Coming here, some of the changes are the TV production center. We didn't have that before. A dance studio downstairs, we didn't have that before. A smart board in every room, we didn't have that. When you go up to the library we now have e-books that are being used. It's not all high technology, some is low technology.
Q: What's your vision with the TV studio?
I want this to be an integral part of the classroom. When a social studies class is working on skits in the classroom, come down here and use this [room] to film students.
Q: What are some other things you'd like to add to the school?
I would love to see disabled veterans working next to students, in terms of the experience for both. A lot of these kids may take key positions in government and before they make some of those hard decisions, let them talk to those frontline soldiers a little bit. It's a real eye-opener.