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Founding Principal Bids Farewell to Carroll Gardens School

 Alyce Barr, the founding principal of Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, will leave this year and take on a new job with the Department of Education.
Alyce Barr, the founding principal of Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, will leave this year and take on a new job with the Department of Education.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

CARROLL GARDENS — The founding principal of a Carroll Gardens school is saying goodbye after more than a decade at its helm.

Alyce Barr, 58, helped start Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies in 2001 as an upper school for the Brooklyn New School, both of which share a building on Henry Street.

In the last 13 years, the school has grown to include high school and middle school grades. It has a focus on giving hands-on work experience and encouraging students to learn outside the classroom through internship programs and fieldwork, which will become a regular part of the weekly curriculum next year.

After spending years as a teacher and a principal, Barr is moving to the Office of Interschool Collaborative Learning in the city’s Department of Education, where she will serve as a deputy executive director.

While Barr still has many ideas for the school's future — from developing the arts program to making BCS a voice for equality in education and diversity — she said she “felt like I needed to graduate."

As she leaves BCS, Barr, who lives in Park Slope, said one of the biggest accomplishments of her tenure is that the school exists — and that it is thriving.

“I like the idea of knowing that the school is going to continue and that the vision is going to be sustained,” she said.

Q. Why are fieldwork and internships an important part of the BCS curriculum?

A. I definitely believe in fieldwork and not field trips. Apprenticeship is how people learn. You watch, you try, you get critiqued and you try again. You hear that not everything you do is great, somebody gives you some stiff criticism and you have to fix it. They don’t tell you that everything is a first-place prize. Sometimes that’s hard for kids.

[In the schools’ internship programs], kids have real jobs. We try really hard not to send them in large groups so they have to interact more with adults than each other.

Q. What would you say are some of the school’s most notable accomplishments since it was founded?

A. I guess that there is a school. So many schools start and stop and change and go in 10 different directions. But the school was just a little like “The Little Engine That Could” — it’s steadily going up that hill. It’s growing, it’s thriving, it’s graduating over 90 percent of its kids and 100 percent of them are getting into college. That’s a big deal.

There’s an incredibly smart group of people working hard together to get better at their practice. I’m incredibly proud of the college acceptances. And that includes all of them — from the kid who is going to community college to the kid who is going to Barnard [College]. Every one of those kids has made a journey.

I’m proud that the school has taken the original mission, refined it and gone forward with it. It maintained its progressive roots and its commitment to diversity.

Q. What ideas do you still have for the school?

A. I would love to have a dance program here. I would love to add strings to our music program. I started making a ceramics studio as part of our arts studio and I want to help grow that. I would like to have a student travel program that starts in grade six — an urban rural exchange that moves on to interstate exchange and then international exchange.

I don’t know what my new ideas would be. These things are partially in progress and they will continue to grow. But I know myself and I probably have 10 new ideas every day.

I wasn’t going to be able to put the brakes on having new ideas and I knew that, as long as I continued to have new ideas, it would take years to implement them.

Q. Why did you decide this was going to be your final year?

A. I guess I got to the point where I felt like I needed to graduate. From the things I was learning in my doctoral program [at New York University] to the things I learned [at BCS], I wanted to have the opportunity to reflect on that at scale. It was a very difficult decision because I really do love this school. I love the people who work here and the kids.

Q. Any parting words of wisdom for the students and staff?

A. I really do believe that people get smarter by working hard. I think that there are many times that people assume that someone is born with a gift or tremendous ability, but the people who really amaze us in this world work very hard to do what they do well. Everyone of us can get smarter.