Dobbs Ferry's new superintendent of schools Dr. Lisa Brady is open about her ideas on education.
While nearly everything else in our society is virtually unrecognizable from that of 50 years ago, public education has largely stayed the same, she says. And Brady believes that in schools, the status quo won't fly for much longer.
"I think classrooms need to look more like the world the students we educate live in," Brady said. "It's critical that teachers and administrators get their acts together on technology. There's no room for teachers to say, 'I'm old school' anymore. It's time for them to learn and embrace professional development."
Brady comes to Dobbs Ferry after serving four years as superintendent in the Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ; she had a 25-year career in public education in that state.
Though her previous district was considerably larger—3,200 students in grades 9 through 12 alone—Brady said she is excited to tackle her role as commander-in-chief in Dobbs Ferry. She will earn an annual salary of $225,000—though her benefits will still be provided by the State of New Jersey.
Brady's tenure in Westchester started officially earlier this month, and since that time she said she has filled her days meeting with such community members as the school board, Dobbs Ferry Education Foundation, PTSA, SPRING Community Partners and many parents.
"I'm very big on communication," Brady said. "I want people to feel like they're in the loop."
In fact, she has even assigned (optional) summer reading, suggesting everyone pick up Tony Wagner's book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don't Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—And What We Can Do About It.
In the book, Wagner argues that seven skills—critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination—are imperative to a child's success in college and beyond.
Brady hopes to make sure these educational foundations are taught at every grade level and in every subject in the district.
"I'm hoping to initiate discussion groups about the book with teachers and parents," Brady said. "Hopefully we can start a productive conversation."
Of course everyone wants to know Brady's opinions on the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, a diploma program offered uniquely in Dobbs Ferry.
"If I were to start a school, I would use an IB curriculum," Brady said. "IB focuses on getting students to think globally and critically. I firmly believe AP [Advanced Placement] courses will evolve to look more like IB courses and that we'll be ahead of the game."
Whether all high school students in Dobbs Ferry should be encouraged to enroll in IB courses has sparked controversy in the past.
"If we can agree that these are the skills we want to teach students, then it shouldn't matter whether they take the IB exam at the end of the year," Brady said. "What's important is that every student is exposed to critical thinking and taught to analyze and synthesize information."
Some might find it intimidating to start as superintendent with two new building principals—at Springhurst and Dobbs Ferry High School—and a
"I think it's exciting that there will be a fresh set of eyes on everything," Brady said. "In January, we'll start on a new five-year strategic plan for the district, and I hope to get the community involved. These are exciting times in education."
Although New Jersey has not received federal Race to the Top funds—and has therefore not yet mandated that its schools conform to the —Brady said she is already familiar with the curriculum initiative.
"New Jersey schools are already doing many of the same things anyway," Brady explained. "I think there's great value in what's happening in New York."
Brady and her team have just begun to review and analyze last year's round of grades three through eight math and English/language arts test scores. Overall, she said she's pleased with the results.
"There are places we'll need to look at," she said. "We need to see where kids struggled and how to address that."
Brady believes that rather than compare Dobbs Ferry to other schools and one grade level to another, the district has to look at each individual child and how he or she is improving from year to year.
"Our goal has to be making sure each individual child reaches his or her full potential," Brady said.