Small school has challenges, but he hopes to give every student a voice
By Alison Rooney
Peter Carucci, hired this year as the principal of Haldane High School in Cold Spring, has worked in schools with thousands of students and one that had fewer than Haldane, which has about 300.
He said he feels he’s in a “good spot” at Haldane. “I love it here,” he said. “I feel like this is my home.”
“One thing I’ve learned is that not everyone in the district has learned all the amazing things that have gone on here; we’re going to work on that,” he said. “The community supports the school and the school supports the community; we’re one and the same.”
Among the impressive things, he said, are experiential learning, expanded senior internships, “and last week the senior class spent the day kayaking — just incredible.” He would like to see more interaction between high school and elementary students so that there’s a greater sense, particularly for the families of younger students, “that this is a K through 12 campus.”
Carucci began the job on July 1, succeeding Brian Alm, who left after nine years for the Ossining school district. He used the summer months to get his bearings. “Before the kids got here, I met with almost all of the staff,” he said. He admired the teachers’ work ethic, he said. “They’ll do whatever it takes to do right by the kids.”
The new principal said he approached the meetings with his personal framework in mind: “Let’s find the most positive outcome.” Discussions sometimes centered on curriculum issues, particularly with the frequent state-mandated alterations. Carucci noted this can be challenging and frustrating, citing as an example the virtual elimination of trigonometry, which affects advanced science and math classes. He said he and the teachers have a plan to “scaffold” the subject in over the course of a few years’ worth of instruction.
“My whole angle on instruction is supporting teachers so they can hold on to the interests of kids,” Carucci said. “It’s a lot harder to be a teacher these days because of legislation. Teachers in general need to know that they’re heard, that their ideas are incorporated. After all, who better than a teacher to know these things?”
Citing the turnover in staff in guidance and pupil personnel services, along with his own arrival, Carucci said he hoped to “provide a sense for consistency for students and staff, by keeping ongoing, egalitarian dialogues; it’s important that everyone feels they have a voice.”
There is ongoing pressure on students to take Advanced Placement classes (for which they can earn college credits), which brings challenges because scheduling can be more difficult at a smaller school.
“As a small school we still strive to put forth everything that a larger school does, but we simply don’t have the same resources,” Carucci said. “Here our staff wears many hats, but it takes more energy to do the same things. We want to provide the same opportunities, but it’s actually much harder to program individually in a small school. A large school has multiple sections of some classes so schedules can be moved around to accommodate more easily.”
“I thankfully have a lot of experience in programming and hope to continue to individualize: try to make it work,” he continued. “Also, we’re able to expand and offer courses in different ways,” such as independent study, online courses and activities including a new Shakespeare club and a history club.
While not a substitute for a classroom course, the clubs have led students to some unique experiences, such as mapping gravestones at a local cemetery and discovering a piece of the original fencing.
Not having everything in school derive from a “top-down world” is important to Carucci. “Students need to see that their accomplishments come from them,” he said. “For instance, there’s now a student parking lot, which they brought in as an issue. This helped give them a sense of ownership. Not only does it take parking issues out of the community, it’s taught them how to handle the things that have come up in relation to it.”
Carucci is aware that not all students feel the same motivation. Those are the teens he intends to reach. “In large schools, kids can be anonymous, which actually can be a good thing,” he said. “Here kids are in the play, on the field, tutoring, working, so active, and everyone knows about those kids. It’s hard for some kids who aren’t as involved, and we want to give these kids the attention they deserve…. It’s rewarding to see the not-as-involved kids find their niche, even if their niche is not knowing what it is yet.”