UPPER WEST SIDE — The principal selected to run a new school opening in the former Beacon HS space in 2015 said she has a progressive education background that will guide her leadership.
Jessica Jenkins will head the new 6-12 West End Secondary School of Urban Studies on West 61st Street, leaving her post as a superintendent on Staten Island this winter, she said.
Before taking over as superintendent last September, Jenkins founded the Marsh Avenue School for Expeditionary Learning, a Staten Island middle school with a diverse population, in 2008, she told Community Education Council 3 leaders Wednesday night.
"I love the work that I did this year… [but] I started to miss the kids every day. I said I think I belong in a school again," said Jenkins, who also has experience teaching special education and literacy.
CEC members lauded the choice after a series of delays in getting plans for the school off the ground that they blamed on the Department of Education.
"This is not somebody from the [DOE's] principal farm," said CEC member Olaiya Deen, praising the fact that Jenkins comes to the district with experience of opening and running a new school.
Jenkins has what she described as a "whole child," progressive approach to education. For example, she won't just look at test scores and grades when admitting the first class of sixth-graders in the fall of 2015, she said.
She's looking at the entire picture of who kids are when evaluating if they are the right fit for West End.
In determining admission, Jenkins and other school staffers will look at a portfolio of information about a student, according to this rubric:
► Attending an information session about the school counts for 30 percent of the application.
► An interview with Jenkins in which a student describes the process of how they created a piece of work counts for 30 percent. "It doesn’t mean they have to be a rock star… it’s a conversation. It’s not this Harvard interview [for] 11-years-old," she explained.
► Test scores on state exams count for 20 percent of the application package.
► A student's grades and work habits, as reported by their previous teachers, each count for 10 percent of the application.
Jenkins said she's still hammering out what the focus on urban studies will mean and what the curriculum will look like, but said she's extremely excited to have so many cultural resources near the school.
The DOE has agreed to make upgrades at the school, which parents and education leaders have been adamant about in the past.
"[The School Construction Authority] is going to be doing some pretty amazing things this year. They’re going to be doing a tremendous amount of work on the school," Jenkins explained, adding that there would be between $40 and $50 million spent on upgrades.
The gym will get elongated and a real kitchen will be added to the cafeteria. Additionally, the black box theater and dance classrooms will get moved to the basement, said Superintendent Ilene Altschul.
On the second and third floors, the DOE is adding "more classrooms, upgrades to the science labs and ADA-accessible bathrooms," Altschul said.
In addition to attending official middle school meetings with parents and touring schools, Jenkins plans to spread the word about the new school via meetings throughout the community in the coming year.
"You can make or break yourself the first year… me being out there and publicly articulating [the vision], that is why parents take that risk [on a new school,]" Jenkins said.
The first year has to establish a strong school culture and community, she added.
"You cannot have an iffy first year," Jenkins said. "That’s non-negotiable."
The website for the school, westendsecondary.com, will go live on Aug. 25, she noted.