NYC Schools Chancellor visits to observe literacy program, co-taught classes, and humanities seminar


Katherine Lian

NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks visits Townsend Harris to discuss funding for the future of the Queens College Bridge Year Program, and also see how the school runs with everyday student involvement.

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On May 1, New York City Public Schools Chancellor David Banks visited Townsend Harris High School. During his visit, Chancellor Banks observed many classrooms, engaged with students and educators, and met with the THHS administration. 

Given a month’s notice, Principal Brian Condon and Assistant Principal Veronica York asked English teachers Brian Sweeney, Ryan Dunbar, Kevin McDonaugh, Katherine Lipinski, and Natali Frank to showcase the freshman literacy program and the senior humanities seminar offered by THHS. Additionally, math teachers Abid Choudhury and Kayla Gill were asked to showcase a co-taught math class. 

The last time a chancellor came to visit THHS was 11 years ago. With over 1,000 NYC public schools and a total student body exceeding one million from Pre-K to 12th grade, Mr. Condon said it was vital to the THHS administration to properly showcase the value of education that THHS offers its students during his visit. 

“The fact that he saw fit to come to us was a great honor and what we wanted to do was show him what we do here very specifically, very concisely while being respectful of his time and how that can be amplified to help every other kid in New York City,” Mr. Condon said.

Considering that Mr. Banks only had an hour to spend, to accommodate the Chancellor’s visit, it was necessary to change the regular THHS program to ensure that specific classes could be presented and highlighted for the Chancellor. Consequently, bands four and five replaced bands two and three. 

One of the focal points of the Chancellor’s visit was the school’s co-taught classes. Numerous courses provided by THHS have an Integrated-Co Teaching or ICT setting.  “We fully include all students in all aspects of what we do,” Mr. Condon said, noting that THHS serves an ICT special education population of about 200 students. 

One of the classes the Chancellor observed was a ninth grade English and Writing Process class,  co-taught by Ms. Lipinski and Ms. Frank. “We wanted Chancellor Banks to experience an authentic 9th grade English and Writing Process class at Townsend Harris High School. It was important for us to demonstrate the typical practices and structures that allow our students to thrive,” Ms. Frank said.

Mr. Choudhury and Ms. Gill played the role of displaying the ICT math classroom. Mr. Choudhury aimed to ensure the Chancellor witnessed what would occur in a regular school day in his class. “Anything he saw was what we do on a regular basis. [We] highlighted good things we do every single day,” said Mr. Choudhury. 

The Chancellor’s visit to classes with an ICT setting emphasized the importance of integration by including visits to Mr. Choudhury and Ms.Gill’s math classroom, as well as Ms. Lipinski and Ms. Frank’s English class. Additionally, regarding the school’s ICT program and its growth over the years, Mr. Condon expressed a commitment to accessibility and inclusivity. “We want to make sure every student here has access to all of the courses no matter how rigorous, how advanced they are. We don’t want to exclude anyone or label them,” Mr. Condon said.

Mr. Condon, Mr. Dunbar, and Mr. McDonaugh all shared a similar sentiment that the underlying purpose of deciding to display the 12th grade humanities seminar classes to the Chancellor was to advocate for funding towards the Queens College Bridge Year Program. 

In 2020, Mr. Condon announced that the DOE was cutting funds for this program, which strives to provide Harristies with the opportunity to gain college level credits from Queens College. Since then, the THHS community has been forced to fund the program from its own budget and funding from elected officials such as State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who provided $250,000 to cover this year’s program. 

Mr. Condon expressed his intentions to gain funding from the DOE through Chancellor Banks’s visit. “Eventually the money [from politicians] will run out and we need to keep this [program] running. The only place that the money can really come from is its original source, which is the DOE,” said Mr. Condon.

The QC seminar classes culminate at the end of the year with the annual Humanities Symposium, showcasing seniors’ work thus far. Unlike previous years, THHS partnered with Information Technology High School to allow their students to showcase their presentations at the event. 

“You can only receive what you fully share and as important as it is to ensure that the money that [is used for the Bridge Program] benefits students, if I can show how it doesn’t just benefit our community, but other schools across the city and can demonstrate how we are sharing knowledge, then [we are able to multiply the value of the money],” said Mr. Condon. 

Even though an emphasis was put on the senior English classes, most seniors could not attend the showcase because it was also the day of the AP United States Government and Politics exam, which meant that most THHS seniors would not attend class. 

To compensate for the absences, Mr. Sweeney proposed that THHS juniors attend the class as a way to expose them to the course they will take next year and also as a way to suggest ideas for a possible theme of the 2024 Humanities Symposium, a decision usually made by the incoming senior class. The selected theme, proposed by juniors during the day of the visit, was later announced at the Symposium on May 26: Heroes and Anti-Heroes. 

Traditionally, Humanities seminars are conducted at the QC campus, but to avoid any conflicts and conserve time, this showcase was held on the THHS auditorium stage. However, the annual THHS Into the Woods play had happened the weekend prior, which meant the set design was still there. 

“The [humanities class] occurred on stage, in the woods, and the Chancellor came in with a huge team of people, seeing a hybrid class between various seminars and juniors. We were all working together, and I express my gratitude to Mr. Sweeney for his guidance and Mr. McDonaugh and Professor Lacker for everything they did to help,” said Mr. Dunbar. 

When asked why he believed THHS was the right place for Chancellor David Banks to visit, Mr. Condon said, “Our values [at THHS] align with those of the chancellor: literacy [access], college access, career access and civic engagement. We wanted to communicate [to Chancellor Banks] that we are good neighbors, good citizens, and we are committed to sharing the good work we do [at THHS] to make sure that we all benefit and that we operate out of a spirit of generosity.”