Few elementary school students read books in both Spanish and English, rehearse with a young people’s chorus and take yoga classes during a school day. But at P.S. 75, all 800 students take advantage of those opportunities daily, thanks to the dedicated leadership of Principal Bob O’Brien.
“He is a great leader,” said Eleanor Krieger, mother of a 1st grader at P.S. 75. “He’s the kind of leader that brings out the best in the people around him. It’s a great community and he’s the person that’s steering the ship.”
For the past 12 years, O’Brien’s leadership has turned P.S. 75 into an unusual community of learners. Expanding the school’s dual language program from five classes to 12, O’Brien has ensured that students in the linguistic minority have the same opportunities as those in the majority.
“Spanish-dominant students who would ordinarily be served in a bilingual program that is just language-minority students are served in a context in which there are English-dominant students who want to learn Spanish,” O’Brien said.
All children leave the program bilingual and bi-literate.
“You can turn what might have been a challenge into a strength for the school and see everyone succeed,” O’Brien said.
To help special needs students, O’Brien has introduced collaborative team teaching into the school. Special needs students are integrated with general education students in 10 different classrooms, which are team-taught by a special education teacher and a general education teacher.
“The amazing thing about it is it’s often difficult for a visitor to pick out which are the students that have special needs, or to pick out which teacher is which,” O’Brien said. “We make sure that kids are reaching their fullest potential without segregating students in special needs classes or sending them to another school. They’re all our kids and they all stay in our school.”
O’Brien is as inclusive of the parents of P.S. 75 as he is of the students. He makes time to speak to parents on a daily basis and organizes informal principal-parent chats once each month.
“His dedication to parents and understanding the parents’ perspective is really unique,” said Jennifer Friedman, mother of a 2nd grader. “He doesn’t come to those meetings with an agenda; he comes and hears what the parents have to say. I’m an administrator of a preschool so I know different ways to respond to parents. He’s not a ‘yes’ man; he’ll explain why things are done the way they’re done. He’s very clear and honest, which gains him respect.”
Parents also respect O’Brien for his dedication to students after school hours; he expanded the after-school program to include music, pottery, theater and cooking classes, at a fraction of the cost of other neighborhood programs. His commitment to the arts ensures that every 5th grade student takes ballroom dance classes and invites students in grades 3, 4 and 5 to participate in a young people’s chorus that has performed at Carnegie Hall. Responding to a concern that students were not getting enough movement during the day, O’Brien moved computers into classrooms, turned the computer lab into a yoga room, and added yoga classes to the curriculum.
“There are lots of opportunities to experience learning outside of reading and math,” O’Brien said. “While those things are important, there are lots of other ways to know the world and experience learning. Those are the things that I am proudest of.”
— Carolyn Braff
Bob O’Brien, Principal
P.S. 75, Emily Dickinson
735 West End Ave.
New York, N.Y. 10025