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Principal Uses Instagram for Class Lessons in Bid to Be More Tech-Savvy

By Nicholas Rizzi | April 7, 2014 6:58am
 Totten Intermediate School 34 principal John Boyle, center, with his assistant principals, from left, Tammy Stancavage, Amy Janicke and Gary Tames. Boyle said much of his success as principal comes from his great staff.
Totten Intermediate School 34 principal John Boyle, center, with his assistant principals, from left, Tammy Stancavage, Amy Janicke and Gary Tames. Boyle said much of his success as principal comes from his great staff.
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DNAinfo/Nicholas Rizzi

TOTTENVILLE — Principal John Boyle said Totten Intermediate School 34 had a solid foundation when he took control three years ago, but he's worked hard to modernize the learning environment for students.

Teachers post lesson plans on Instagram or the school's website and students can submit homework on Dropbox. The school also implemented a BYOD — bring your own device — policy to classrooms, allowing them to use electronic tablets to take notes instead of pen and paper.

"This is what they're used to," Boyle said. "It's almost an extension of their hand, their iPad. Who are we to tell them 'You need to write in a notebook?' It makes sense for them. It's more comfortable for them."

Some kids use the tablets to play games in class, but Boyle said the vast majority use the technology for learning purposes and he's gotten positive feedback on the program.

The school's also working on a conversion to become ADA accessible, something Boyle has been inspired to push for by one of the parents of a prospective student.

John Hudson Dilgen, who was born with a rare skin disease that causes his skin to blister and fall off, was set to attend IS 34 this fall. He lives across the street from the school, but will likely need to go to a different school 20 minutes away by car because IS 34 doesn't have elevators.

His mother, Faye Dilgen, has been working with the school to make it more handicap-accessible in hopes that other students like John Hudson will be able to attend in the future.

"It's the best thing we did," Boyle said. "Those kids, just like everybody else, deserve a chance to come to their neighborhood school and I believe that with all my heart."

The project is expected to be completed in September or October.

Boyle, 38, started in the school as an assistant principal 10 years ago.

He's been in the school for the majority of his education career, and Boyle said he hopes to continue in the same location for the rest of it.

"I love this place, I've grown up here a lot," he said. "I don't think I would ever leave. I hope to end my career here."

Q: What are some of the biggest changes you've made in the school?

A: We've definitely improved the level of tech that's available to teachers and to students. We now have Smart Boards in every classroom. We have a projector in every classroom [and] at least one or two computers in every room.

We have invested quite a bit of money in Macs. The thinking is that's what kids want to use and if you could give them something that they want to use, then they're going to use them inside the rooms.

Q: Have there been many problems with kids abusing the tech in the classrooms?

A: We now welcome our kids to bring their own devices to school. In the past we were always afraid of kids bringing their iPads to school but we said, "You know what? This is how this generation learns." If you walk into our classroom now you see of 33 kids in the room, 20 of them have an iPad out in front of them.

They're not a banned item inside of schools, so that to me is a great opportunity. I think the kids love it. With anything like that, there's going to be times where a kid does the wrong thing. Kids are kids. If they didn't make mistakes they wouldn't need us around. But the vast majority of time they're on-point. And our population is very good, we've not run into thefts, occasionally an iPad will get lost or left inside the desk but most of the times our kids return them.

Q: What have been some of the factors for the success of the school?

A: We've reorganized our administrative roles. This year, with the new observations, we had to do almost 500 observations, which is an enormous task in 180 school days. [Assistant principals Amy Janicke, Tammy Stancavage and me] wrote about 500 observations this year and our other assistant principal [Gary Tames] took over the student support services side. He handled all student-related issues. That has freed us up to be in classrooms every single day.

They were finding that they were spending so much time dealing with student-related instances over the course of the day, it was taking away the ability to get into the classrooms. Now we're in rooms every day. Teachers are given constant, good, steady feedback.

Q: What are some goals you have for the school going forward?

A: I would like to see us become more of a school where other schools come to visit. I think that what we do here is special, and I'd like for us to grow into a model site where other schools around the city, especially middle schools, could come and see what we do here and what makes IS 34 the special place that it is and spread out [this] model because I think our model is a good one.

I'd love to see my assistant principals become principals because I think they would take the shared vision that we created and build that capacity to other schools in the city. That to me would be the mark of our success — for those three to take their own school and move forward.