Dominion of New York

Social Justice

September 15, 2011

76% Poor. 86% Black. 100% Percent Admitted to College.

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Written by: Kelly Virella

A brief tour of 5 classes reveals students focused and attentive. In the first class, the global history teacher reviews her classroom procedures with students. In a math class, the Algebra II-Trigonometry teacher  reviews the Pythagorean Theorem. In an English class, students conjugate verbs. Upstairs, where two of the school’s classes meet, a beloved English and drama teacher launches into SAT preparation.

The school’s entire curriculum is college preparatory, but it also offers 8 Advanced Placement classes: US History, Global History, Statistics, English Language and Composition, English Literature, Biology, Chemistry and Calculus. In addition, each student is required to do public service in order to graduate and has the option of working on the school’s one-half acre farm, where dozens of vegetables — from collard greens to corn — are under cultivation. On Wednesdays, they set up a farmer’s market next to the vegetables and sell them to neighborhood families, who are welcome to use their food stamps.

How the High School For Public Service Succeeds

Principle Ben Shuldiner is a white 34-year-old native New Yorker who — with his two assistant principals — founded the school 8 years ago. In addition to being principal, he teaches calculus at the school. In his office, are three framed New York Times front pages — one from a President Franklin D. Roosevelt election, one from President Abraham Lincoln’s election and one from the first moon walk — and several awards for the school.

While Shuldiner is white, the faculty is diverse, with 50 percent being people of color and several black male role models — including the assistant principal, the head of the science department and a beloved math teacher, Ewell Isaac. When asked who his favorite teachers are, Elsayed doesn’t discriminate. A smile creeps across his face and he says, “All of them.”

Shuldiner says being white is not a barrier. “Being an educational leader is about being someone who loves children,” he says.

Principal Ben Shuldiner in his office. Photo by Kelly Virella

Principal Ben Shuldiner in his office. Photo by Kelly Virella

When asked to describe the secrets to his school’s success, Shuldiner rattles off a litany of common-sense prescriptions. “It’s a simple formula,” he says. “Teachers that work hard and care about the kids, high expectations in terms of academic excellence, a good school ethos, treating each child as unique and important,” he starts. “Some schools will talk about, ‘Are students going to college?’ Here it’s: ‘What college are you going to?'”

Shuldiner also says he took the time necessary to hire good teachers and make sure they have the training they need to get better, holding weekly full-staff one-hour training meetings. “There are times when schools hire teachers that are licensed in English and they’re making them teach history class,” Shuldiner says. “Don’t do that.”

Ewell Isaac, High School for Public Service math teacher, Photo by Kelly Virella

Ewell Isaac, High School for Public Service math teacher, Photo by Kelly Virella

Ewell Isaac, a beloved math teacher at the school, attributed much of its success to the level of commitment of the teachers to helping the children get into college. He says the principals make sure he has whatever he needs to succeed with every kid. Isaac, a 60-year-old black man from St. Kitts, works until 6:30 pm everyday, and frequently forgoes his lunch to tutor his students.


About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


A student at Ocean Hill Collegiate Middle School. Photo by Jessica Campbell
The outdoor plaza at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of OlivierJD.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Renato Ganoza

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