The School at Columbia University (The School), a K-8 independent school serving Columbia University and neighborhood families, seeks a new Head of School who is passionate about the mission and values of the institution and has the leadership agility to move The School forward. Beginning on July 1, 2023, the Head of School’s entry will also usher in The School’s 20th anniversary, marking the next chapter in the school’s story.
Founded in 2003, The School at Columbia University is an innovative and inclusive school with an inquiry-based and progressive pedagogy, intentionally designed to meet the diverse needs of Columbia University employees and local community members. Guided by its mission and the careful, steady leadership of the past decade, The School has emerged as a national leader in progressive/constructivist education by engaging its University, local, and national partnerships to deliver their unique learning experience to a diverse student body, comprising children of families affiliated with Columbia University and of families residing in the surrounding neighborhood who are selected by a lottery system.
The Academic Program
The School’s curricular perspective, which is referred to as progressive, knowledge-based constructivism, is positioned in a framework that allows student learning to take place in real life. It is learner-centered, focusing on essential questions and related themes and concepts. Essential questions devised by teachers, but also generated by students, are set in the context of personal relevance and academic perspectives.
Teachers at The School work across eleven disciplines—dance, educational technology, literacy and English, mathematics, music, science, social and emotional learning, social studies, Spanish, visual art, and wellness—to create an engaging curriculum that encourages collaborative problem-solving and deep thinking. Grade-level themes and concepts are integrated across all disciplines and incorporate skills students need to acquire at each grade level. The development of discipline-specific skills equips students to use disciplines as lenses through which to learn.
One of the primary considerations of The School’s educational program is that in the lower grades students first learn integrative habits of mind, which when they enter the upper grades of The School they naturally apply to more rigorously attended disciplines. It is hoped that this two-pronged approach will help students answer many important questions, such as, “What is worth knowing?,” “What content is important from each discipline?” and “How do we know what we know?”
The Primary Division — comprising Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 — focuses on building a strong foundation for all aspects of learning and developing skills essential to educational success. Literacy, math, and social-emotional learning are taught within a context of a conceptual, integrated, multi-disciplinary curriculum. Within this division, students learn about themselves, their families and their community using concepts such as Pattern, Discovery, Structure, Experience, and Movement. The commitment to nurturing the young child is reflected in small classes with two or three teachers per class. Getting to know each child well is a priority for teachers in this division. Teachers build relationships with students in a variety of ways, getting to know their interests, personalities, family values, and learning styles in addition to their academic skills through individual assessments of literacy and math.
Transitioning from the Primary Division to the Intermediate Division in Grade 3, children are building on the solid foundation of the content and processes they experienced in Kindergarten through Grade 2. In the Intermediate Division, the shift of responsibility changes from the hands of parents/guardians and teachers to the students. Teachers scaffold their students toward becoming independent by encouraging children to take ownership of their learning. The structure in the Intermediate Division reflects the delicate balance teachers must strike as the bridge from the lower grades to the upper grades. For example, in Grade 3, students have a lead teacher and an associate teacher in the classroom; however, Grade 4 is the first year students have one teacher in the classroom, moving them toward independence. All of the grades within the Intermediate Division are located on the same floor, which encourages a community among its students and teachers. The School works on a ten-day schedule, which, in addition to three hours devoted to literacy and math every day, provides time for visual arts, dance, class meetings, music, science, Spanish, spelling and social studies. Differentiating instruction within the Intermediate Division takes many forms, and is determined through ongoing assessments including each student’s “My Achievement Plan goals” which are developed through a partnership among parents/guardians, teachers, and the student during student-directed conferences.
Building on the Primary and Intermediate Division programs, which lay the foundations for inquiry and project-based integrated learning, the Middle Division (Grade 6 through Grade 8) continues to foster the academic and social-emotional development of its students. The goal is to help students become their best selves: intrinsically motivated self-advocates who develop a clear understanding of themselves as learners and co-creators of the world around them. Teachers differentiate instruction in the classroom to both challenge and scaffold a wide range of learners. Therefore, feedback is conducted in a variety of formats including assessments, letter grades, checkpoints, homework and class engagement. Strong interpersonal relationships, executive functioning, and social-emotional learning are fostered within the classroom and through the advisory program. In Grade 8, students engage in a Social Action capstone project where every student identifies and becomes involved in a cause – local, regional, national or international – that they are passionate about and then presents to The School community at an exhibition about how they helped to move the cause forward.
High School Placement
The High School Placement Office at The School at Columbia University has a successful record of helping students gain admission to a variety of public, parochial, and independent schools across NYC and boarding schools across the country that meet the students’ academic, social and emotional needs. In consultation with advisors and teachers, the high school placement team offers families and students individualized guidance through the high school application process starting in Grade 7. A weekly Life Skills course helps students craft essays, practice interview skills, and prepare portfolios. Rigorous test preparation courses, included in school tuition, are available to all students to support the high school placement process. Lastly, the High School Placement Office meets regularly with families to prepare materials and establish priorities.
Faculty & Staff
The School at Columbia University comprises 100 faculty members and 35 staff members. Its teachers and staff are very accomplished professionals, with a majority holding MA, MSEd, PhD and PsyD degrees. They work with dedication and energy and constantly strive to improve what they are doing. Faculty have authored education articles in publications and journals including Teaching Tolerance, Edutopia, Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, and Learning Languages. In the past 12 years, four teachers won the coveted Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and another four were selected as NAIS Teachers of the Future. There is a culture of excellence for the adults within The School that is both expected and self-generated.
The School’s commitment to supporting its students can be seen in its 5:1 overall student-to-faculty ratio. In addition, its student support team, referred to as the Child Study Team, includes three full-time psychologists, three psychology interns, a speech pathologist, two occupational therapists, a social worker, six learning support specialists, and two literacy and mathematics liaisons. Guiding The School is a leadership team that consists of three Division Directors, Chief of Operations, Directors of Communication, Enrollment, Finance and Budget, Human Resources, Technology, and an Assistant Director of After School Programs.
Collaboration is critical to the work of the faculty, who work within and across grades and divisions to expand learning opportunities for students. The faculty and staff are also dedicated community members within The School and locally and partner with the University and neighborhood organizations on service projects, community initiatives, and public events. Faculty and staff members and school leaders are expected to pursue continual growth and development, as they are expected to innovate and pursue cutting-edge methods, new techniques and technology-driven projects for their students.
The School currently serves 484 students in Kindergarten through Grade 8. It strives to enroll 50% of its students from Columbia University affiliates and 50% from neighborhood families who are chosen by a need-blind lottery. University and neighborhood families represent a wide range of racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity and come from all over the U.S and around the world. This rich diversity underpins the way community is built and informs the curriculum and pedagogy. Students, families, faculty and staff alike praise and appreciate the diversity within the institution.
Outside of the classroom, students have access to and engage in a wide range of co-curriculars that support the academic endeavors and mission of The School. These offerings include, but are not limited to: chess, debate, veterinary science club, and a vibrant After School program that consists of more than 80 different courses for students in all grades. In addition, The School’s athletic program, starting in Grade 5, boasts 20 athletic teams including basketball, cross country, fencing, lacrosse, soccer, track and field, and volleyball.
Ultimate responsibility for the School rests with the Provost and Board of Trustees of Columbia University. An Advisory Council provides feedback and guidance to the Head. The leadership of the Advisory Council works with both the Head of School and the Office of the Provost. The Council itself comprises a lead teacher from The School, current and alumni parents and guardians from both University and neighborhood families, faculty of the University, and individuals from outside of Columbia University with a background in K-12 education.
The School is located on six floors and in 80,000 square-feet of a multi-use building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 110th and Broadway. All classrooms, studios, labs and the library were remodeled between 2013-2016 to create new spaces that further the mission of the institution. The School houses specialized facilities for music, art and dance as well as a large multipurpose gym/stage/auditorium and accesses other University facilities for Athletics and special events. Like many urban campuses, The School aspires to more space to fully realize and support its curricular and innovation goals, but this resource is constrained across the University.
Partnership with Columbia University
The School at Columbia University is unique as it is among a small group of schools in the world integrated with – and in The School’s case, part of – a leading university that provides access to a diverse array of resources.
The School’s teachers, in collaboration with Columbia University faculty and graduate students, have created a wide variety of learning opportunities for students. Projects range from field trips and class visits, to ongoing collaborations that shape The School’s curriculum. For example, faculty from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health are pivotal members of The School’s Gender and Sexuality Education committee. Columbia-affiliated personnel have served as primary instructors or coaches for the school’s Athletics and Model United Nations teams, among other groups.
As members of the University community, faculty and staff at The School are encouraged to take courses towards degrees at Teachers College and broader Columbia University and to experience all that is offered as a part of professional development and educational growth.
University faculty and staff partner with The School on key Parents Association events, including the biennial Science Expo and Annual Fall Festival, which is free and open to the neighborhood and community. The School holds all of its performing arts concerts (also free and open to the community) and Grade 8 graduation on the University’s campus.
When it comes to administrative support for The School, the University approves policy about admissions and financial aid and works closely with the Head of School and Director of Enrollment on the implementation of these policies. The budget is developed in collaboration with the University’s Provost and the Office of Management and Budget. The School has authority over how it hires and organizes personnel and manages its curriculum.
The School at Columbia University’s intentional school culture embraces shared beliefs across disciplines and grades, which underlie important values expressed through everyday behaviors and visible symbols throughout their community. These values include:
Encouraging creative problem-solving in dynamic groups where outcomes are not always predictable, but ultimately greater than any individual perspective could envision.
Promoting inclusivity, facilitating open communication, and providing clear expectations to all members of the community to ensure a healthy, productive environment, inside and outside the school.
Reveling in an environment of myriad learning experiences that address important aspects of diversity, including identity development, anti-bias skills, and the idea that difference is better.
Taking thoughtful risks grounded in current research, putting new technologies to work in classrooms, and always seeking new approaches to learning to provide a meaningful 21st-century education to all students.
Strategic Priorities and Opportunities for the Next Head of School
Following the successful 10-year tenure of the previous head, the next Head will inherit a school that is well-positioned within the independent school market and well-supported by the University. The School’s founding values of collaboration, community, diversity and innovation continue to be its organizing principles and, therefore, guide the strategic priorities for The School and its next Head. Because there are no current fundraising responsibilities assigned to the Head of School, the incoming leader can focus on opportunities and needs related to enrollment, curriculum, community and communication, in addition to providing leadership for the next strategic vision for The School as it enters its third decade. The University is finalizing an Academic Review of The School, standard for academic units at Columbia, which will guide the Head and Provost in establishing additional strategic priorities and academic goals.
Given some of the enrollment challenges that currently face New York City independent schools due to demographic shifts within the city, improved public school options, and other variables, the next Head of School will be expected to continue to partner with the Office of the Provost, Director of Enrollment, and other key constituencies in order to articulate to different stakeholders how The School achieves and offers a unique and excellent progressive education to a student body with unparalleled racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity.
With its knowledge-based constructivist curriculum, robust professional development opportunities, leading associate teachers program, and international Teach21 summer institute with programs in NYC, California, and Turkey, The School has positioned itself as an educational leader in a short amount of time. Its pedagogical and curricular philosophies embrace multicultural perspectives and develop 21st-century agents of change within its teachers, staff, and students. The next Head of School will be expected to continue to lead the examination and application of the School’s nationally-lauded innovative and progressive curriculum and pedagogy to ensure that educational outcomes continue to be met. Furthermore, the Head will be responsible for the design of communication efforts regarding The School’s curriculum and pedagogy and its foundation in research-based strategies that are constantly refined to produce and reach the intended outcomes for students.
The inability to gather in-person for the last few years due to the Covid-19 pandemic has proved challenging for families and prevented the community’s ability to connect and engage with each other in a deeper capacity. Therefore, in alignment with The School’s founding values regarding community, reintroducing safe and fulfilling in-person events for students and families that encourage connection will be an important priority.
Lastly, regular communication among the different constituencies will be a key focus for the next Head of School. Because this position sits at the nexus of The School and the University, strengthening communication practices and channels will be an important step in allowing the School to continue to live its values, meet its mission, and leverage its resources.
Qualities of a Successful Candidate
The next Head of School must be passionate about The School’s Mission and inspire others around the work of the school. The ideal candidate will have the following characteristics:
- Educational Leader. Given The School’s constructivist approach, local and national recognition, and association with Columbia University, it is important that the next Head of School is not only aware of best practices, but also an innovator and contributor within the field of education. Candidates should possess a deep understanding of progressive education and experience leading or applying research-based strategies related to curriculum development and inquiry-based pedagogy. Furthermore, experiences with leading workshops, writing articles, mentoring adults, regularly participating in professional growth opportunities, and or serving on regional and national boards and committees will be expected and are highly valued.
Culture and Community Builder. The Head of School will have experience leading an organization through growth and transformation. This requires a commitment to transparency, authenticity, and values-discipline in all aspects of management. As the country and school continue to navigate the pandemic and racial injustice, a rebuilding of bonds between community members is essential. In addition, building morale and inspiring rejuvenation among the educators in the building is necessary after two years of upheaval due to the pandemic.
Inclusive Leader. The Head will be fluent in the language and work of DEIJ, able to clearly articulate their own equity journey, with demonstrated experience bringing The School’s values into organizational practices and systems.
Superb Communicator. The Head must possess excellent communication and interpersonal skills, with a genuine interest in listening to and learning from its active and engaged community. The ability to assess and articulate the mission, progressive education tenets, inquiry-based and constructivist pedagogy is essential. Facilitating constructive dialogue among a diverse group of constituents will be critical in guiding the community toward a common mission of providing an excellent educational environment.
Effective Steward of Resources and Relationships. The Head must have a sophisticated understanding of the varied relationships that need to be cultivated and sustained to maintain a vibrant school community. As such, the Head of School will possess a compelling voice with a demonstrated ability to have authentic dialogue around complex issues including the University’s and Provost’s goals and expectations, strategic direction, and community priorities.
In addition, the next Head of School will possess the following:
- Graduate degree in education or relevant academic discipline
Classroom teaching experience in public and/or independent school settings, preferably K-8
Demonstrated 5-7 years of successful leadership and management experience in a complex environment, especially in a K-8 setting
Fluency in progressive, constructivist pedagogies and a growth mindset approach towards innovative curriculum and practices
Student-centered approach to teaching and leadership
Expertise in student enrollment during challenging times, familiarity with the New York City market preferred
An excellent recruiter and cultivator of diverse teaching and administrative talent
Other skills and attributes:
- The personal balance and confidence necessary to maintain a learning posture while contributing as a thought-leader in the University and independent school worlds
The wisdom, initiative, and humility to co-create with, and build alignment across, teachers and staff, Advisory Council, parents and guardians, the Office of the Provost, and other stakeholders toward a vision and plan for The School that inspires all.
Warm, approachable, empathetic, caring and a sense of humor
High integrity and transparency
Faculty size: 100
Staff size: 35
Student to Teacher Ratio: 5 to 1
HoS Direct Reports: 10
Facilities: 80,000 square-feet throughout six floors of a multi-use building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. All classrooms, studios, labs and the library were remodeled between 2013-2016 to create new spaces that further the mission of the school.
Procedure to Apply
Interested candidates should submit the following materials through the bit.ly provided:
- Cover letter expressing interest in the position
Statement of educational philosophy and practice
Writing sample (e.g., published article, letter to the community, etc.)
List of five references including name, title, phone number, email address and professional relationship. We encourage at least two references to be current or former supervisors. References are contacted only with the candidate’s permission.
Columbia University mandates COVID-19 vaccination for all University students, faculty, and staff—this includes officers of instruction, officers of research, officers of the libraries, student officers, officers of administration, and union and non-union support staff. Candidates invited to campus will be expected to submit vaccination documentation prior to arriving on campus.
Applications due: July 31, 2022
Semifinalists interviews: September 2022
Finalists interviews: October 2022
Hiring announcement: Late November 2022