UPPER EAST SIDE — David Getz has been at the helm of the well-regarded East Side Middle School for 11 years, successfully steering it through a move to a new building in 2010 and a subsequent expansion.
Even with almost 500 students, the school is known as much for its tight-knit community as for its high-quality academics.
Getz and assistant principal Michael Goldspiel make a point of greeting the students each morning and seeing them out in the afternoon. Students say that the administrators know just about everyone by name.
The 40-member student council works with the administration on organizing everything from the school newspaper to an anti-hunger project. Students can also participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities including unusual offerings such as Skype Kenya, in which a group of East Side Middle students partner with students in Kenya and help them to raise money for high school fees.
“Our vision is, very fundamentally, to help our kids become great citizens so that they can be contributing members of our community,” Getz said.
East Side Middle also offers parents opportunities to engage with the school beyond parent-teacher conferences and PTA fundraisers. Getz and Goldspiel host a monthly book club called “Principally for Parents.”
Getz, a published children’s book author, has also taught writing classes specifically for parents.
Parents on Inside Schools praise East Side Middle’s challenging academics, particularly the school’s humanities curriculum.
East Side Middle School received an A on its 2012-2013 progress report and ranked in the 96th percentile of all middle schools in New York City.
Q: What are some of the challenges of working with middle school students?
A: I think one of the biggest challenges is that you still have to teach children how to learn and think. In middle school more than elementary school you have to bring in content, so there’s a balance between bringing in content and helping kids still develop their thinking and reading skills. You might have to teach children about genetics, but you also have to teach children how to read science.
One of the other big challenges for kids this age is to get them to think more empathetically so that they can take on other people’s points of view and understand that what they consider truth is not necessarily absolute.
Q: What is your approach to curriculum development?
A: We try to develop curriculum that is as authentic as possible. We try to simulate the profession that kids are studying. If they’re doing writing, we treat them as writers. For example, in the sixth grade, the kids write memoirs, which they submit to Stone Soup Magazine. So, they actually write for publication. If we’re doing history, we think as historians. So when they study the Civil War, they study it because they are going to write a chapter of an historical fiction novel about the Civil War and they have to make it as accurate as possible. As much as we can, we try to create authentic experiences and assessments.
Q: How does your experience as a writer influence your work as an educator?
Having written a novel helps you to understand how novels are written and how to look at novels. Having worked with an editor helps you understand how to teach writing to some degree, so I have insight that’s valuable when working with teachers on the curriculum.
I also worked as a non-fiction writer and wrote about science, both books and articles. Right now, I’m helping to design a unit on science journalism, where the kids will be in the role that I was once in professionally. So, it helps to inform what we’re learning about.
Q: Your test scores went down last year. What are you doing to adapt to the Common Core and the new tests?
A: We’ve done a lot of work with claims and evidence in the humanities class and in science so that the kids improve their ability to read and respond to non-fiction writing, especially claims and evidence-based pieces.
We believe in the value of non-fiction writing and evidence-based arguments, but we also believe in creativity so I think it’s about finding a balance there.
Q: You signed a letter from District 2 principals voicing disapproval of the new tests. Why did you choose to sign?
A: I signed it because of the use of the test really. I do think there’s a value to testing and standardized testing. However, I think New York State and maybe the city as well and the federal government have decided to use testing for purposes other than what it should be used for and I think that’s harmful for education.
I think that the tests have become too prominent and that they are distracting.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: I come in to work and almost every morning there’s some group of kids working in my office on some kind of project. I love that. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world to come into work and there’s three kids working on the 8th grade graduation video and two kids working on the open house video and somebody else is working on the anti-hunger project and somebody else is composing letters to kids in Africa.
Coming to work everyday to help, to work with and to engage children is a great, vibrant way to exist.