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A Burst Pipe and the Thread of School Leadership

Those of us who help support principals in the Partnership have long asked ourselves to think about what a principal might have been doing when we give them a call. It’s a way of reminding ourselves: not only are principals busy, but they are asked to shift gears dramatically all day. When anyone calls or reaches out to them, a principal could have been thinking about instruction, people management, parent relationships, facilities—all in just the last twenty minutes.

Earlier this week on Twitter, we shared a thread of posts from Jessica Aybar, the intrepid principal of the Partnership’s St. Athanasius School in The Bronx. We’re reprising it here because it’s too funny and touching not to share. It also serves as a reminder to all of us of the everyday magic that school leaders and their teams pull off unheralded.

Act 1: The Call

To be clear, the meeting she references is a meeting of all principals in our network. Before COVID, that all-day meeting would have taken place in person at one of our schools. Unfortunately, in the COVID era, we need to sneak in time on Zoom amidst everything else our leaders and teachers are juggling.

(Pro-tip: If you don’t consider yourself an expert on the many facets of school leadership, here’s an inside scoop: If you have to ask, “How much leaking,” it’s probably more than you want.)

Act 2: The Plan

Like superheroes in movies, principals generally have two resources at their disposal when unexpected challenges arise: an ingenious plan, and indispensable sidekicks. Sometimes, though, you need a minute to come up with that plan..and then to hear why the plan isn’t perfect.

Act 3: The Heroes

Emily, by the way, is Emily Ackerman, the school’s Business Operations Manager.

Carlos Cortez is on the building maintenance team.

Juan Sotomayor–who Jessica says she loves–isn’t a daily part of the school team—but as the Director of Religious Education for the parish, he stepped right in when needed.

Fiona Chalmers is the Academic Dean at St. Athanasius; so while Jess was trying to attend the meeting, and Emily and Carlos were handling the pipe, Fiona was ensuring learning continued, like she does every day.

But wait; there’s more:

Miguel Ramos, Jess’s second love, manages all the buildings of the New York Partnership Schools. This isn’t the first time he’s made someone’s day by quietly going about his work; for more on how he helped make in-person learning possible for our students this fall, see here.

None of us who know Anthony Rosario are surprised, by the way, A) that he is singing and B) that  it’s a good thing. A dedicated teacher and servant leader, he has long brought thoughtful reflections and music to the whole St. Athanasius community. So in the middle of a building evacuation, this move is reassuringly familiar.

Even cooler: Anthony’s singing is part of the school’s evacuation plan. This wasn’t unprompted; the team planned for it, which speaks volumes to their intentionality.

Act 4: The Outcome

This is what counts as a happy ending some days as a principal: everyone is happy, safe, and calm, and the NYPD didn’t tow your car.

We should add that the school transitioned to remote learning for a day while the pipe was fixed, and the school’s Halloween festivities transitioned to November 3.

Act 5: The Takeaways

Jess names three at the end of her Twitter thread:

We were, in fact, engaging with Jessica and our whole leadership cohort that morning around the nature of practical wisdom and its role in decision-making. There’s lots we could say about that, but for now, let’s just talk about how amazing it is to work with a group of busy professionals who so engage learning together that after a day of burst pipes and urgent, remote decision-making, their first thought is wow, today really illuminated a point of our professional development. 

The team at St. Athanasius truly is a gift—one that Jess has cultivated through habits of communication, empowerment and collaboration built over months and years so smooth handling of moments like this can happen.

And finally: