WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Parents and neighbors were so friendly when they noticed Jonathan Brown's Highlands Middle School badge that the new principal says his personnel ID has become a staple accessory even when school's out.
"I wear my badge out on purpose and people will be like, 'Oh you're the middle school principal. Tell me about the sixth grade academy,'" said Brown, who was hired as Highlands' principal on July 1. "People have an opinion on the schools, even if it's not always positive, which shows they care. And when parents care, it's huge."
Brown, who spent the past three years as assistant principal at Blue Mountain High School in Cortland Manor, heard rumors about the White Plains School District being very close-knit. Still, he said he's in awe over how often parents stop by his office to say hello, how well integrated Highlands' Youth Bureau office is, and students' good behavior.
"I just can't believe it. The sense of community here is just off the charts," said Brown. "Each day, I get more and more enthusiastic."
Going forward, Brown said he wants to focus on how instruction and curriculum can boost achievement for the school's approximately 1,100 students. He's developed five "smart goals" for the school, which include focusing on positive reinforcement, developing a "response intervention system" for struggling students, making sure grades reflect state standards, and improving achievement as measured by the state department of education.
Highlands' teachers are also being trained to be more "data literate" so staff has a better grasp on how the state calculates student and school achievement scores.
Each discipline at Highlands, such as arts, math, or social studies, has a professional learning community that will also develop goals to further support the school-wide initiatives.
Brown, who is an adjunct professor at Manhattanville College and has taught social studies in the Bronx and East Ramapo, said he got into education by accident while he and other Verizon employees were on strike in 2000.
"My wife, who went to school to be an elementary school teacher, took me to an interview. I got the job and she didn't. Teaching was my calling," said Brown, whose wife now teaches fifth grade in the Bronx. "It's in my blood. My dad teaches at the collegiate level. My mom was a homemaker who taught me more than probably anybody. My three kids all say they want to be teachers."
Assistant Principal Brent Brown said the school's transition under Brown has been smooth.
"He's an experienced and knowledgeable person. It's nice to have a person come in from the outside and look at things with a new perspective," said Brent Brown, who has been an assistant principal at Highlands for eight years. "The only problem is we have two Mr. Browns now. So we've kind of established that he's Principal Brown and I'm Mr. Brown or Assistant Principal Brown."
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