When she first arrived to work at this imposing brick building in March 1963, John F. Kennedy was president, ZIP codes were not yet in use, and the nearby Verrazano-Narrows Bridge was still under construction.
She has outlasted more than a dozen schools chancellors, who made what she described as “little changes here and there,” and watched a student body dominated by the children of Italian immigrants transform into one that is 45 percent Asian-American and 18 percent Hispanic.
Madeleine P. Brennan has been principal at Dyker Heights Intermediate School 201 in Brooklyn for 48 years. Experts believe she may be the longest serving principal in the country.
What works for her?
- consistent rules and consequences
- dedicated staff
- activities kids want like a Shakespeare fair and annual musical
“Teenagers fascinate me,” Mrs. Brennan said in an interview in her pin-straight office. “They are peculiar ducks, neither fish nor fowl. And you have to love them to really work with them. If you don’t love them, you are up a tree.”
Hallways are silent during class, but Mrs. Brennan lets students scream and yell as much as they want in the cafeteria and between classes, to let out their energy. She specially orders them popular foods like French fries, roast chicken and mozzarella sticks.
Today, I.S. 201 has about 1,500 students, 68 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. It has earned A’s on the city’s progress reports each of the last three years and sends many of its students to top city high schools.
Students are divided into tracks in the old-fashioned way, into honors, general education and special-education classes. But inside classrooms, they sit in groups and work on projects, instead of learning by rote memorization, as was the norm even a decade ago. There are electronic whiteboards and laptops.
She will retire in 2013, after 50 years of public service.
(I became aware of this story because she was my husband's principal when he attended IS 201.)