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Principal of P.S. 150 Brings Fresh Ideas to Small School Model

TRIBECA — Ten years of administrative experience in a small school on the Upper West Side might have made Jenny Bonnet the perfect fit for principal of P.S.150.

Bonnet, a product of New York City public schools and a graduate of Hunter College with a degree in elementary education, took the helm as principal of the Tribeca Learning Center in March 2012. She worked for nearly a decade as an academic director of the Special Music School — a school with one class per grade — the same as her current school, P.S. 150, which houses 188 students from pre-kindergarten through to 5th grade.

Taking over for long-time principal Maggie Siena, now principal of the Peck Slip School in Lower Manhattan, Bonnet — who has also taught P.S. 64 in the South Bronx and I.S. 44 on the Upper West Side — has ideas that she plans to bring to P.S. 150.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in education?

Jenny Bonnet: I was very lucky to go to good public schools in New York City. My parents were always very involved with the PTA and I was very close with my teachers. I just had a love of learning and deep down I just knew that eventually I would probably want to become a teacher.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced when taking over P.S. 150?

JB: When I first got here in March, Maggie [Siena] was here every day, and I was working with her for about six weeks. But she also had her own school to plan so she started to transition out and work at the Peck Slip School.

At first I think it was hard for parents to look at me as the leader, since Maggie had been here for so long. But as she transitioned out, I really got to know the parents a lot better and it was nice, I think it really worked well.

Q: How has your previous experience in education informed the way you run P.S. 150?

JB: I understood what it’s like to run a school with one class per a grade because the Special Music School, where for nine years, was the same model, so it seemed like a good match for me here.

Q: What is unique about P.S. 150?

JB: P.S. 150, The Tribeca Learning Center, operates under a one class per a grade model, which means there is only one class for every grade in the school. 

Q: What are the benefits to the one class per grade model?

JB: The lovely thing about one class per grade is that it’s small and you get to know all of the kids really well, and you get to know all of the parents really well, and it becomes a very welcoming, warm community.

Teachers also really get to know the kids, and we’re able to talk about kids a lot, and it’s not like in a school where you have 800 kids and five classes per a grade. There’s constant discussion about their needs, where they are, academically and socially and emotionally.

Q: What are some of the drawbacks to the model?

JB: Some of the downfalls are that the kids are together every year, and they can either love each other like brothers and sisters or they can fight with each other like brothers and sisters. So I think you really need to keep an eye on the social-emotional component of that. Also, if your child is in a class and you’re not really thrilled with the chemistry as a parent, you have to realize that’s what you’re coming into, and that can be difficult; if two students are not getting along, there’s no way to split them up because there is only one class per a grade.

Another inherent issue is budgeting. You don’t have a whole lot of flexibility with the class size and that’s an issue we’re dealing with now. But we do have a very generous PTA and we’re able to get by that way.

Q: How do you plan to address the disadvantages of the model?

We’re working a lot on character education here because of the issue of the one class and the kids being together all of the time.

I developed the idea to create a model for the school, which is, “P.S. 150, Students are G.R.E.A.T.”  It stands for being gracious, respectful, empathetic, aware and tenacious. We had a town hall meeting about it last year, and a student came up with a design for a logo for the acronym. The kids are even coming up with strategies every month for students to focus on one of the words. So for September and October, it’s being gracious, and next week we’re starting a book read where I go around to classes and read books that have to do with being gracious, and discuss it with the kids.