Introducing Principal Seung Yu

With an upcoming and uncertain school year, Seung Yu has been appointed Principal of Stuyvesant following former Principal Eric Contreras’s resignation in July.

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“I missed talking with young people. And as crazy and spontaneous as it will be on a school day, that’s also what makes it beautiful,” Principal Seung Yu said. Having formerly worked as the founding principal of the Academy of Software Engineering and afterward transitioning to the central Department of Education (DOE), Yu returned to the principalship this year through his new position at Stuyvesant.

Prior to serving as the Senior Executive Director of the Office of Postsecondary Readiness at the DOE, Yu had an extensive background in education. His first teaching experience was in the Peace Corps, where he taught English in the Dominican Republic. Following his return to the U.S., Yu did advocacy work in Washington D.C. with the Reading is Fundamental initiative, a children’s literacy organization, and later became an English teacher at the High School for Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn, New York.

Beyond Yu’s experiences working as a teacher, his interest in and outlook on education have been heavily shaped by his own high school experiences, from playing on the football team to serving as student body president. “I loved high school. I got to play high school football. You wouldn’t know it if you look at me, but I actually played quarterback, and we won the state championship,” Yu said.

More influential than his extracurriculars, however, were Yu’s friends, family, and teachers. “I had so many people who believed in me, and that was something I’ve carried with me, because every time I work with young people, I realize how lucky I [am],” he said. “I’ve had people look out for me and who’ve mentored or who’ve cheerleaded or who’ve always been there to tell me that I can do more, and that really was the reason I got into education because I wanted young people to experience that.”

Yu’s approach to leading and education is also apparent in how he interacts with high schoolers. “One thing that I think struck us all is that […] you could refer to people [students] as kids or you could refer to them as young adults, and he referred to us as young adults and as students,” senior and Acting Student Union President Julian Giordano said. “He really identified with his own high school self, and he really understood that perspective.”

Yu actively decides to refer to students in that way because of the freedom he had to make his own decisions as a highschooler. “My belief is we need to give you information and then you have to make the decision and be informed enough to make a decision on your own,” he said. “That’s what I hope to be able to bring to Stuyvesant. I know it already exists but would like to do more of that because that’s the one thing that’s really important to me. I want you to have choices.”

He decided to apply for principal of Stuyvesant for its vast array of extracurriculars and student opportunities as well as its academic rigor. “I wanted to know what it would be like to work with students who were on the other spectrum, who were really excelling or accelerated,” he said. “We’ve got some tremendously talented young people who are excelling, who are really driven […] can we add to it? I’d like to believe we can, and then if so, how do we add to that?”

Currently, Yu has to tackle the challenges of leading Stuyvesant in an unprecedented time. “This coming September there will be a lot of questions I can’t answer because I do not know yet. And I say that because every principal is feeling some level of that,” he said. “What I am trying to do with our team is to meet a lot of the needs that people have proposed and indicated without jeopardizing people’s safety, without compromising the integrity of who we are.”

Still, Yu has succeeded in acquainting himself with Stuyvesant in a short period of time, according to Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick. “Yu has impeccable time management that helps the cabinet be thoughtful and direct in our time together. He has laudable organization skills, with shared Google documents, e-mails replete with hyperlinks, and communications that build off one another,” Pedrick said in an e-mail interview. “I already feel he knows our school well and that we are in very good hands.”

Yu has been able to familiarize himself with the student side of Stuyvesant as well. “We were on this call with him, and he was still learning about everything. We brought up SING!, and he didn’t know what it was and I don’t blame him—he’s a new principal, and he’s getting adjusted,” Giordano said. “Since we talked to him then, in the next two weeks, he learned so much. It was incredibly impressive, and that’s one of the first things that stood out to me about him: he really was committed to adjusting to the Stuy community, learning about the Stuy community, and working with the Stuy community.”

In the long run, Yu aspires to see the Stuyvesant community continue to grow and adapt with the times, pandemic or not. “How do we maintain what has made us excellent while also recognizing you are a different generation? And so, how do we [not only] find that balance between keeping all of the things that have been good for the school in terms of traditions, but also be nimble and courageous enough to explore teaching and learning that is vastly different than it [was] 10 years ago—actually six months ago?” he said.

Addressing Stuyvesant’s reputation as a competitive academic institution, Yu ultimately hopes to make Stuyvesant an even safer and more supportive space for students: “[A community in which] everybody would be proud, […] you find your place, you find your little niche, you find what you really want to do—that’s what I would love to see more of. I imagine it exists at Stuyvesant. I would like to see more of that.”