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South Bronx Principal Helps Provide School with Steady Leadership Presence

By Eddie Small | April 13, 2015 7:47am
 Catherine Jackvony has been principal at the Bronx Academy of Promise since 2011 and works to create a familial environment in the school.
Catherine Jackvony has been principal at the Bronx Academy of Promise since 2011 and works to create a familial environment in the school.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

MOUNT EDEN — Before Catherine Jackvony arrived at The Bronx Academy of Promise in March of 2011, the school had gone through two principals in two years and was looking for a steadier source of leadership, something Jackvony said she has been happy to provide in her four years on the job.

"I really feel like this is my home," she said.

Jackvony spent 12 years at Roosevelt Children's Academy on Long Island before heading into the Bronx, and she said the toughest part of the adjustment has been rooting for the Mets in a school so close to Yankee Stadium.

She has worked to make the school a happier place since taking over, with efforts like organizing an annual fifth grade trip to Disney World. She has tried to apply some lessons from Disney's work to her own classrooms.

"Whatever it is, it’s done well, and when you leave, you have a good feeling from it," she said. "So why not? Why can’t that be a school building?"

DNAinfo recently sat down with Jackvony to talk about her transition from working in Long Island to working in the South Bronx and her efforts to build a stronger sense of community at the school. The interview has been edited for clarity.

What made you move from Long Island to The Bronx?

I felt like charter schools were given the opportunity to think outside the box, and at Roosevelt ... they had a lot of issues going on over there. And this district had a lot of issues, but they just went through a whole renewal, and I felt like I wanted to do so much more. I wasn’t given the opportunity to do that there, and this opportunity came along, and I interviewed and went through two interviews and finally got the position in 2011. I could honestly say — I tell people all the time — I’ve never been so happy to get up at 3:45 in the morning.

Was there anything in particular about the Bronx that appealed to you? Were you specifically looking to go to a school here?

I just felt like this was a place that I could make a difference ... In the first three years, they had three principals here, and there were two ahead of me, and the person [I knew here] kept saying, they just need somebody to build family, to build a home, to build a community, a school community, and the teachers were really looking for that. I felt like this was a place that I could do that because I tell everybody that I really, strongly believe that this school is a family ... and you may not like your siblings every day, but in the end, you do what’s best out of respect for the family.

How did you try and make the school have a stronger sense of community?

I felt that it was very important to give people their voice. So when I first came here, I wanted the teachers to know that I was their support, that I was here to support them, and I gave them the ability to speak or the chance to voice their concerns or opinions. One of the first things they said was that the math program that was here was not helping. It wasn’t doing anything. It was just a bunch of papers.

So I had different vendors come in and present their different math programs. This was right before Common Core was just coming into vogue. And we had a [Professional Day], a whole day PD, when these different vendors came, and they presented their products, and then we voted, and the teachers voted on the program that they wanted.

Are the students part of the decision making process as well?

Well, I’m probably going to start because this was the first year we had eighth grade, so we’ll add that, the students, now that they're older.

So you’d like to see them have a little more input?

Yes. We have a student council, and the student council meets with me probably once a week, and we discuss the things that they would like to do.

Do they have any big ideas or big projects that they want to work on going forward?

Previous years, we had the DOE come give us their food. They were here in our kitchen making food for us. The students came to me last year and said, "We really don't think this food is really good. I found a hair in one of them. This woman doesn't wear her hairnet," and they were really concerned about the food that they were getting.

So this year, we went on our own. We're now our own food authority, and we hired a chef and our own kitchen staff that cook, and we went from having 60 kids eat breakfast to 200 kids eat breakfast. Our chef was a chef in one of the Manhattan restaurants, and he has a family, young family, and he really wanted to get on a school schedule because with the restaurant, he was there all hours of the night. So he decided to come here and cook for our kids. It's made a difference.