Training future generations

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Hunter College High School’s principal on education, and his own atypical path


  • Fearless leader for HCHS' gifted students. Photo courtesy of Tony Fisher

Tony Fisher realized he wanted to be an educator when he was in 10th grade. When his best friend from high school needed someone to teach him all of geometry the night before the final exam, Fisher stepped up to the plate.

“I would say it was then that I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” said Fisher, now the principal of Hunter College High School on East 94th Street. “I just really enjoyed explaining stuff.”

As the principal of the one of the most prestigious high schools in Manhattan, Fisher serves as the fearless leader for Hunter’s 1,265 gifted students. During his time at HCHS, he has been an instrumental part of significant academic initiatives, such as the introduction of a mandatory ninth grade computer science course, the school’s Institute for Responsible Media, a computer science research program, and a school writing center.

One of his proudest accomplishments at Hunter has been differentiating the seventh and eighth grade students as an individual unit from the high school through separate counseling programs and advisory initiatives.

But in addition to academic initiatives, Fisher has also been a part of efforts to improve students’ mental health. For many of the school’s students, it can be difficult to stay mindful in such a high-pressure environment. As part of a recently-introduced pilot program, all seventh graders partake in exercises three days a week that focus on improving mindfulness and controlling breathing.

“If this makes some students less anxious and helps, then it’s worth it,” said Fisher, who hopes to extend the program to other grades, pending its success.

Although Fisher knew he was going to go into education eventually, he initially pushed it off. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Yale University, Fisher decided to continue his studies before going to teach.

“I figured if I went straight to teaching, I would never want to go back,” said Fisher, who chose to get his a Ph.D. in math from the University of Chicago after college.

“When I told people in the math department that I was going to teach high school, I got these really funny looks,” he remarked, explaining how his goals strayed from the traditional route of becoming a professor. “There was a lot of surprise that that’s what I was doing.”

Fisher started at HCHS in 2006 as chair of the school’s mathematics department. After a year, he was appointed assistant principal and three years after that, principal, a position he has served in for the past eight years.

Although a part of Fisher misses teaching students in the classroom, he has enjoyed his roles in administration as well. “Once I became an administrator, I discovered that I liked thinking about bigger pictures,” Fisher said. “I liked thinking about the whole school.”

A few years ago, Hunter came up a new approach to approaching school culture that focuses on six core values — compassion, creativity, curiosity, integrity, respect and responsibility.

To Fisher, these are the values he hopes students take with them when they graduate.

“I want students leaving here to think about how they’re leading their lives in those terms,” he remarked. “It’s so cheesy to say you want students leaving a place to go out and sort of think about making the world better. But I believe in it and I say it a lot.”

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