OTTY 2019 Honoree: Giving kids 'the emotional ability to lead'

06 Mar 2019 | 03:56

    Like many other educators, P.S. 183 Principal Martin Woodard's decision to become a teacher was influenced heavily by own his teachers. But perhaps unlike many other future educators, Woodard found his least favorite teachers the most instructive for his own career.

    “I enjoyed school a lot so when I had a bad teacher or a teacher not giving it their best I felt like I was missing out on something,” Woodard said in a recent interview. “I knew there could be a lot better for kids.”

    After moving from a small town in Ohio, Woodard began his teaching career as a fourth grade teacher at P.S. 158, where he stayed for nearly ten years. From there, he moved on as the assistant principal at the P.S. 151 in Yorkville.

    His desire to shape the student experience for kids all the way through elementary school motivated the decision to make the move to administration.

    “I realized that as a teacher you could only influence some of the small number of students that were in my class every year,” he said. “But as an administrator I can have an influence on the experience for a child kindergarten through fifth grade.”

    Six years later, Woodard joined the staff of P.S. 183 as principal, where he is now in his second year at the helm.

    “One of the things for a new person coming in, I knew nobody here when I started. I didn't know the families. I didn't know the students. I didn't know the staff,” he said, “But they were so welcoming.”

    P.S. 183 has long been known as a high-performing school. In 2018 it was awarded for academic achievement and named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

    Achievement Beyond Test ScoresWoodard said the school's success is thanks to the staff at the school and his assistant principal, Kim Banks, who has been at the school for 14 years.

    “There's a sense of collectiveness among the staff towards everyone doing well and helping each other out,” he said. “And I have a fantastic [assistant principal] in Kim who has been really supportive — and she's a tremendously hard worker.”

    Banks and Woodard said that the academic success is a big focus for the school's families already, and that it is their job to facilitate the success and to provide a safe and joyful environment.

    “At the end of every year, I ask was this a safe year? Was this a year where students were happy?” said Banks. “I think that's one of the things that makes our school stand out is that it's a very comfortable environment.”

    Woodard agreed, saying test scores were not the only way to measure achievement.

    “To me success is when I see kids running in the building because they're so excited to come to school,” he said.

    One way the administration creates that environment is through programming. This year, kindergarten through second graders are learning to play chess. Third graders are learning the art of ballet through a partnership with the New York City Ballet. They're also getting visits from Fulbright scholars who teach the students about their culture and what it was like growing up in their home country. Fourth graders are learning a unit on art and slavery with the New York Historical Society. And fifth graders just finished a residency with the Justice Resource Center where they researched a First Amendment issue and argued a fictitious case at the Brooklyn Court House.

    Woodard said he wants to continue programming at P.S. 183 that helps students identify what it is in the world that interests them.”

    “Elementary school is all about finding independence and self-confidence,” Woodard said. “When our students leave fifth grade, and they go off to the various middle schools, my hope is that they're confident in who they are as a person and they feel that they have developed the emotional ability to lead.”