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Rashid Ferrod Davis Managing a New School for Students of Color in STEM Fields

Rashid Ferrod, principal of P-TECH/Photo Credit: Rachel Elkind

To address the lack of people of color in STEM (science, technology engineering and mathematics) fields, the New York City’s Department of Education, the City University of New York and IBM launched P-TECH High School, on Sept. 8, 2011.  Students can earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in the innovative six-year program. Rolling out spoke with education veteran Rashid Ferrod Davis, the school’s principal, about his approach to managing this initiative.

What do you look for when hiring staff?

I look for people who have a willingness to work with struggling learners so that students have several opportunities to demonstrate mastery. Often adults can get frustrated revisiting the same topic or issue, but students may need multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding. Finally, I like to hear how people have overcome adversity in their lives so that there is some context for them to be able to speak to a resilience factor and the need to stick to a goal until it is obtained.

How do you measure the success of your school outside of passing exams and obtaining a diploma or degree?  

Outside of passing exams and obtaining a diploma or degree, I measure the success of my school in the following two areas: partnerships and individual student attendance. First, it is extremely important that schools have partnerships with community-based organizations, colleges and private industry to show students that there is life after high school. In addition, students need to see reflections of people who look like them in positions of leadership. Second, students are informed that their individual attendance is crucial to success and it is not simply enough to just show up, but it is how they show up [that matters].

What valuable lessons have you learned from running schools that can be applied to any business or nonprofit enterprise?

I have learned that it is extremely important to focus on developing talent and motivating people to dream bigger dreams. Thus, mentoring is very important for me and over the past few years, I have mentored at least 15 teachers as they have participated in master’s of administration programs to get state certification to become school leaders. In addition, a valuable lesson I have learned has been to have difficult conversations without destroying someone’s self-confidence,  so I have an open-door policy that allows people to talk honestly.