GSE Students Receive Grants from the Department of Education

Two NYC Elementary Teachers and GSE Students Share Why They’re Pursuing School Leadership Degrees

March 15, 2022
Graduate School of Education (GSE) students Amanda Mills and Anthony Ciaravino
Graduate School of Education (GSE) students Amanda Mills and Anthony Ciaravino

We recently spoke with Amanda Mills and Anthony Ciaravino, two GSE students currently majoring in School Leadership, with expected graduation dates of May and August ’22, respectively. Mills and Ciaravino both recently received $5,000 sustainability grants from the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Sustainability to improve their school communities. Below they discuss how these key funds will be utilized and explain why they’re passionate about pursuing careers as school district leaders.

Where do you work and what does a day on the job look like?

Mills: I’m a special education teacher who teaches third and fourth graders at P.S. 200 - The James McCune Smith School, located in the borough of Manhattan in New York. A typical day at work starts at 8:00 a.m. when I wait outside my classroom to greet my students as they arrive. After giving them a few minutes to unpack and settle in, I ask them to use the mood meter to express how they’re feeling. This enables me to quickly assess and prioritize which students I need to check in with first. Since I teach students with special needs who require lots of emotional support, it’s very important that I complete this daily check in and give them some positive attention as it sets the tone for a productive day of learning. Each day, I also meet with my students individually, so we can set expectations and go over what is planned. My students need structure, thus having a clear and concise schedule is necessary. I teach traditional subjects including math, reading, writing, science, and social studies. After our group lessons are completed, I then teach smaller groups where I provide strategies to support our students’ individual learning needs and work closely with my colleagues to analyze our students’ work, using data to carefully select curriculum resources that maximize their learning progression.

Ciaravino: For the past 13 years, I’ve worked at The SEEALL Academy, PS/IS 180 located in Brooklyn, New York. I currently wear many hats at my school including being an eighth-grade science and social studies teacher, a senior and student council advisor, a yearbook, student activities and sustainability coordinator, and civics for all coordinator. In addition to teaching important lessons related to the sciences and social studies, a typical day at work for me consists of meeting with teachers and different committees that I’m part of to discuss project updates. I teach for approximately three to four periods a day and the rest of my time is spent performing administrative duties including leading student activities and analyzing key data to improve students’ learning outcomes.

How did you become interested in a career in school leadership? What do you love about the field and what are some of the challenges?

Mills: I have always aspired to influence curriculum in a capacity that extends far beyond the four walls of my classroom. My passion for making a difference motivated me to pursue a career in school leadership as it will allow me to have a lasting impact on student learning. I love that working in this field allows me to mold young minds and that I can guide these students to think in a way that pushes them to be brave when seeking knowledge. Some of the challenges in the field are the ongoing need to learn and the considerable amount of time I spend seeking new information, as well as executing my crucial job responsibilities.

Ciaravino: I never thought I’d pursue an administrative career in education. However, during the pandemic, I began asking myself the critical question: What makes a good leader? Throughout my years of working in the school system, I’ve had leaders inspire me by showcasing their unique skills and through sharing their incredible knowledge, while others prompted me to want to be a great leader because of their inability to successfully lead a team. I love the decision-making process school leaders are heavily involved in and I also enjoy being able to participate in lessons being taught in different classrooms that I’m observing. Some challenges I’ll likely face are ensuring teachers don’t feel intimidated when an administrator like me visits their classrooms, gaining buy-in from crucial stakeholders within the school community, the ability to be visible, present, and approachable, and providing constructive feedback so that we can all learn and grow together.

Can you share some of the skills you’re learning in the GSE classroom that you’ll leverage as you advance your career?

Mills: Some of the skills learned at Touro that I’ll leverage as I advance my career include how to efficiently collaborate with diverse team members to improve instruction, communicating effectively through writing and speaking, analyzing a school’s budget, grant writing, utilizing innovative technology, and the best ways to provide feedback and suggestions.

Ciaravino: While there been many skills learned at Touro that I will utilize as I continue to advance my career, something that sticks out is what I was taught in Dr. Alan Sebel’s Leadership for 21st Century School Leaders class. He underlined that while teachers usually have a viewpoint from the dance floor, administrators typically have a viewpoint from the balcony. He explained that teachers sometimes dance alone as their work keeps them from collaborating with other staff and they’re oftentimes too focused on what is occurring within their classroom, so they might miss out on what’s going on around them. However, administrators supervise all types of interactions throughout the school buildings including walkthroughs, classroom visits, teacher team meetings, and student interactions to gain an understanding of what is happening throughout the building. This ideology highlights how people serving in different roles in the education field can see situations from a variety of different lens and I will continue to keep this in mind as I strive to work in an administrative role. Additionally, I will always be appreciative of the ongoing support from Professor Judith Wilson, who constantly encourages and reminds me to think like an administrator.

You recently received a grant for a sustainability project related to gardening and outdoor learning as part of your GSE internship course. Can you talk a bit about the initiative you’ll be implementing using the funds? How will this impact your students and the school?

Mills: I’m thrilled that my school will receive this vital grant and I will be using the funds to build an indoor hydroponic garden, allowing students to engage in crucial hands-on experiences where they will grow and care for plants, fruits, and vegetables to get them excited about the many facets of science and the biology of plants. This initiative will have a positive impact on my students and the school overall as the garden can be used all year, without any seasonal limitations as it will be housed in an indoor greenhouse, and they can take what they grow home to eat. This in turn will increase their awareness of healthy eating habits while combatting food insecurities typically seen in underserved areas.

Ciaravino: With this grant, our school’s initiative will focus on outdoor learning via studying gardening techniques that will give students the opportunity to learn how to manage a project more efficiently by applying creative thinking skills to innovate new product designs. Students will have the ability to improve their problem-solving skills and navigate through real-world issues facing their community like food insecurities. This project will benefit the school community overall by teaching students that they can grow their own healthy food, which are tips that can be passed onto their family and friends, while enabling them to celebrate their progress in restoring our greenhouse.

What is your advice to others considering an advanced degree in school leadership?

Mills: Embrace the journey fully. It’s very rewarding to know that you can be a catalyst for educational change and impact. Touro will provide you with the critical skills needed to grow your administrative competencies that will help you to become an effective leader now and in the future.

Ciaravino: You have to really want to achieve this goal because the journey can be challenging. You must understand your strengths and passions and continue to look for and take on various administrative roles in your school building to get a feel for what it’s like. Lead a committee, delegate work, and build on your core competencies to ensure your colleagues will trust you as you successfully serve in a leadership role in your district.