2014-2015 Blackboard Award Honoree: Tompkins Square Middle School

Editor’s note: To read a long-form story with profiles of all 15 2014-2015 Blackboard Awards honorees, click HERE!

600 East 6th Street

Sohando Estwick. Photo by Andrew Schwartz
Sohando Estwick. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Describe your school’s core educational philosophy.

Tompkins Square Middle School is a progressive public school serving a diverse community of students on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Our central vision is that students learn best by working closely with others who are different from themselves…We choose our student body with an eye toward a range of different learners from a mix of educational backgrounds.

Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs.

The depth of collaboration across the school, be it student or staff, is something that is particularly noteworthy. Students are digging into inquiry-based work in groups or partnerships throughout their day. The staff is deeply collaborative as well, across grade levels and departments, in team teaching partnerships, and via the TSMS model of authentic shared
decision-making, in which all our school stakeholders are involved
in school initiatives.

What’s new?

This year we have widened our inter-grade connectivity, bringing together 6th and 7th graders several times already to discuss reading notebook skills and share personal memoir projects…I am excited about the Growth Mindset work that the math department is piloting as a focus this year. Students are being taught explicit connections between making mistakes and neuroscience, helping to support students in their risk-taking and perseverance.

What do you love about your school? What do you see as its biggest challenges?

I feel so lucky to be the principal of TSMS. Professionally, I have never worked with a group of people as brilliant, dedicated, and caring as the staff at TSMS. Something that has always struck me about TSMS is how happy the students are to come to school. I not only witness it in their faces, but also hear about it from parents and guardians outside the school at dismissal every day… A major challenge built into the structure of the school is how to meet and push students academically in heterogeneous groupings across such a wide range of learners. This requires a great deal of attention from the staff in order to craft curriculum with multiple entry and exit points. We also put a substantial amount of work into processing and meeting the social-emotional needs of our early adolescents, as we believe that, without this crucial piece, middle schoolers are not able to fully engage academically.