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Baruch HS Principal Encourages Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning

By Heather Holland | December 16, 2013 7:39am
 Principal Alicia Perez-Katz champions student-led parent-teacher conferences and a rigorous writing program.
Baruch College Campus High School
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FLATIRON — Alicia Perez-Katz didn't grow up in New York, but her experience attending schools all over the world has helped her connect with the immigrant families at Baruch College Campus High School, which she has led for the past 10 years.

As the daughter of a Cuban father who worked for international pharmaceutical companies, Perez-Katz, 38, spent most of her childhood in Ecuador, South Korea and Brazil, attending international schools.

“I didn’t go to New York City schools, but I find a parallel,” Perez-Katz said. “I went to school with children from all over the world. I see a lot of that here, and I’m able to feel like I can connect somewhat with Asian families because I lived in Asia for five years.”

Perez-Katz believes her students should take control of their learning, so students lead their own parent-teacher conferences, describing their work and progress. The school also offers extra writing classes on top of the regular English program, because Perez-Katz thinks students need to hone that skill to succeed in college.

Perez-Katz previously taught at Wings Academy in The Bronx before joining Baruch College Campus High School as an 11th-grade teacher, being promoted to principal three years later. She now lives in Cobble Hill and has two young children.

Q: How did you become principal of Baruch College Campus High School?

I was very young, so I had just been a teacher and a staff developer. I had been kind of taking on leadership roles, but I thought that it would be for the future. So it wasn’t something I was necessarily planning on doing at that stage of my life, but it felt like it was an opportunity and I admired [the former principal's] leadership.

So she supported me very closely for the first few years, just because I really skipped many stages, like assistant principal.

Q: What are some changes you’ve made since you became principal?

This year, we’ve modeled a new advisory curriculum that’s really focused a lot more on academic and personal goal setting with the students. We want them to take ownership of their learning and track and monitor their progress in classes and have one-on-one conferences with their advisor on an ongoing basis.

The biggest change we’ve had this year was [that] we shifted from the traditional parent-teacher conference model to student-led conferences. So the parent met with their own child and their adviser for 15 minutes, rather than three minutes with every teacher.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to do more of?

The arts. We don’t have a music program. I’d love to have a music program and to have a drama program or an after-school program, where the students can put on a play. I think the arts are really important.

Q: What is the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a principal?

I think financially it’s been very difficult, and we’ve had to cut positions and it’s really hard. We had to cut an English teacher position last year. I had a teacher in a real leadership role here at the school, and had to put her fully back in the classroom just because we couldn’t afford it. And I’ve had to cut a history teacher one year and never replaced him.

We [also] had to restructure our [advisory] program partially due to budget cuts. In the past, we lost so much money and didn’t want to get rid of programming like AP classes and the writing and the advisory, so we had just instead increased class size. We were up to 38 kids in some classes.

We restructured the school this year, so we're back down to the limit for the DOE, 34 to 30.

Q: Baruch’s math teacher Elizabeth Jaffe was awarded the Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics on Dec. 4. What are your thoughts on her achievement?

Dr. Jaffe has inspired our students to have a love for mathematics, which is evidenced in — more than 80 percent of her class takes the Regents exam and applies for advanced calculus. I feel like they can do it and she inspires them to believe that they can. That’s not something that you can package in a box — it's something that comes from the heart.