An Open Letter to Principal Yu
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Dear Principal Yu,
As an Editorial Board, we often speak to the administration about the policies we hope to see, the issues we want resolved, and the student voices we wish to amplify. As a new principal appointed in the midst of a pandemic, we know the transition has been rapid and intense, especially with so many aspects of Stuyvesant to acquaint yourself with, from our annual SING! performances to the centrality of Facebook to students’ academic and social lives. Drawing from our experiences not just with remote learning, but also the past two to three years at Stuyvesant, here are things we hope you will address as you lead the school throughout and beyond the upcoming school year.
Combat Racial Injustice at Stuyvesant
Endemic racism should not take yet another murder of a Black man in the street to become widely acknowledged, but after Derek Chauvin suffocated George Floyd, non-Black and Hispanic students, teachers, and other faculty members began to listen to what Stuyvesant’s Black and Hispanic students and organizations have been saying for years: that racism is everywhere at Stuyvesant, and that it needs to stop.
There has, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of the Black Students League (BSL) and ASPIRA (Hispanic/Latinx Student Association) been some progress. For instance, over 200 people came to the most recent Talk Circle Around Race spurred on by Floyd’s murder, and this year, the English department is introducing a Black Lives in Literature course. But what progress has been made is a beginning, not an end.
Fortunately, you are in a fantastic position to continue building on it. You have BSL and ASPIRA to give you their policy recommendations. While you do not need to adopt every single one of these, you must listen to and deliberately consider them all.
In addition to policy changes, you can and should work to directly implement anti-racist programs, such as presentations. To date, BSL and ASPIRA have been responsible for these; Black and Hispanic students, already dealing with a Stuyvesant workload, have also had to devote time, energy, and resources to trying to get their classmates to treat them with dignity—only to have relatively few people show up. The post-Floyd Talk Circle’s attendance was a vast leap beyond those of previous Talk Circles around Race, and that was because many people were uniquely motivated at that moment. Your taking initiative in organizing similar events would have two effects: one, it would lift an undue burden from BSL and ASPIRA, and two, it would create the possibility of mandatory sessions. Voluntary antiracist presentations and discussions will inevitably not attract the people who most need to attend them; with the force of your administration behind it, anti-racist education could get a much-needed boost.
Ensure Communication Between Faculty and Students
One of former Principal Contreras’ initiatives most beloved by the student body was his open-door policy. As it is unlikely we will have the chance to visit your office this fall, creating channels for communication between yourself and students is essential, whether that be over e-mail or through the new Student Weekly Conversations initiative. You should work to ensure that other faculty members are available as well. Aside from teachers, students should have easy access to their guidance counselors, who will be able to provide necessary mental health support—key during this time of uncertainty. The College Office should continue reaching out to seniors and juniors virtually, especially because many students are unsure in regards to how the college application process has changed in light of the pandemic.
With so many things up in the air as we head back to school, making sure that the administration and faculty are available to assist students academically and emotionally is incredibly important and the first step in creating a successful school year.
Maintain Student Voice and Input
The lack of student voice in many of Stuyvesant’s decision-making processes has been a recurring problem. For example, the administration last year enrolled all juniors in a mandatory AP Physics course, with effectively no input from students. With backlash from teachers and students alike as well as a mid-year course change to Advanced Physics, the administration’s changes faced controversy almost every step of the way.
And during this time of instability, with little to no in-person interaction or communication, taking into consideration student input is especially vital. Blended and remote learning platforms are already experimental, with questions already raised regarding bandwidth and power outlets in the building. With our circumstances extending from the last three months of school to a full term now, listening to the student experience is more important than ever for a successful school year. Establishing a feedback form available to all students to fill out at any time would be a good step to encourage students to provide input—and actively responding to students’ opinions expressed there would be vital to creating as smooth a transition as possible into the new academic year.
Hold Teachers To A High Standard
While most teachers took time to set up a form of live instruction once school went remote last year, some opted not to altogether, instead posting busywork on Google Classroom or a class website. In the absence of a schoolwide or citywide policy to the contrary, more than a few teachers literally did not not show their faces between the last day of in person classes on March 13 and the end of school more than three months later. While they attempted to fill the void left by their absence with daily or weekly assignments, Stuyvesant students had little trouble reading the signals sent by some of their teachers. As effort from certain teachers slipped, their students, only naturally, mirrored the behavior of their instructors and dropped off. For the coming year, so as not to repeat the failings of spring 2020’s remote learning, it is imperative that teachers hold at least some live instruction to ensure that neither students nor teachers fall out of step.
While mandating live instruction is an important first step in ensuring engagement between teachers and students, more needs to be done to bridge the gaps created by remote schooling. The administration should encourage, if not require, all teachers to hold office hours at least once a week, potentially after a live class. This virtual space would give students a much-needed forum to air their concerns and keep up to date with all happenings in the virtual classroom. There must also be clear lines between classwork and homework. By the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the lines had been blurred so much that the two simply blended together. In the long term, a mass of work to be done is simply not a viable reality. Teachers dismissed concerns about excessive homework loads in violation of school policy by claiming it as classwork. While some overlap is inevitable considering that classes are taking place at home, clearer boundaries and deadlines and more effective enforcement of the homework policy would be massive strides in the right direction. Finally, one recurring problem from last semester is that teachers frequently announced examinations hours in advance. Requiring that teachers warn students about exams with sufficient time to prepare, ideally one week, would substantially increase the learning and testing experience.
This coming year will look like no other and we know that your journey as Stuyvesant’s principal will be met with unique challenges, but we hope you keep these ideas in mind as you go forward.
Thank you for reading,
The Editorial Board