Putting the ‘Pal’ in Principal

| 27 Apr 2015 | 06:30


Scott Reisinger, head of school at Trevor Day School, on making his job “all about the children.”

by angela barbuti

Scott Reisinger took the helm at Trevor Day School last July, he said it felt “very much like coming home again.” Not only is he a graduate of Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree, but many of his former students now work here and reach out to him to have dinner.

When he started at Trevor, a place he says that puts “children and inquiry at the very center of everything it does,” the school was in the middle of two building projects. Now, almost completed, the Upper School will be moving to a new state-of-the-art building on East 95th Street this spring. Among the new facility’s perks will be outdoor planting spaces, where students will grow food that will be served in the cafeteria, and a yoga studio to be used as part of their physical education program. Starting in September, the Lower School will be housed in the newly renovated Goodman Building on West 88th Street, where the Upper School now operates.

The principal finds inspiration in the fact that he is influencing his students to make the world a better place. “I see in every little way in our interaction with kids, no matter where we teach, that we’re helping them change the world. People say to me, ‘You know, that’s really naïve, Scott.’ But it isn’t naïve, it’s what gets me up in the morning.”

What makes Trevor special? The school was built very carefully according to our philosophy and our mission of collaborative and inquiry-based education. One of the things that makes our school unique is that we are devoted to that. If you walk around the school, you will see that our middle and upper schools are built around common spaces. On the outside edge of the common space are the teachers’ desks and student tables are on the inside. And on the outside edges are the classroom spaces. So what typically happens is that a class finishes and oftentimes conversations continues into the common spaces.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?That’s a good question. I’m not sure anyone has ever asked me that. Here’s the way I look at heading the school. I look at it as a calling, and like any calling, you take the skills, attributes, talents and gifts that you have and hope to find that place where they meet the needs of the world. The best parts for me are always working with the kids. Just the other day, I had a couple of students drop by towards the end of the day and they just stood there for 45 minutes talking to me. I’m talking about 5:30 now; they had just come out of sports, and one came out of a rehearsal for a play. What I dislike the most is on rare occasions when you have to make decisions with regard to the student’s continued mission-appropriateness for your school, whether it’s for academic, social or behavioral reasons. That’s what I really dislike the most, without a question. My daughter tells me that those are the things that keep me up at night. Fortunately that hasn’t happened in the last 15 years very often. It hasn’t happed to me at Trevor yet.

How does technology affect the classroom?We were among the first in the country here at Trevor to bring into classrooms as a requirement, laptops. Trevor has been around for a long time in the forefront of integrating technology. In my last school, I led the charge, I think successfully so, in bringing iPads into all of the kids’ hands. Because my own view of this is that there’s nothing we’re going to do to stop this and we have an obligation as educators to teach the healthy use of technology. I’m talking about its moral and ethical uses too. We must apply to our classroom settings the best research we have on what works and what doesn’t work. And present our students with the best research on distractibility, the best research on when to use technology and when not to. They are connected all the time in a way in which I am not. But as negative as we find it, I see it as students being more connected than ever before. ... So it’s really the moral and ethical question we’re dealing with; it’s not the technology.

How do you guard against bullying?We have very clear policies about that with regard to our use of technology here. We have empowered children more and more. I would not have said this 10 years ago, by the way. We kind of had a spike in bullying in all of our schools then, when all of this technology first began to be used. And by bullying, I don’t mean one or two things, or someone says something mean to somebody. It’s a continual pattern, where it’s intentional. We’ve had that in our schools forever; we just didn’t have as easy a way to do it. But I think kids are more empowered now to see it and report on it, with anti-bullying campaigns, where we bring people in to talk to them. In my past school career where we had examples like this, the reports generally came not from parents, but from the students.

Do you keep in touch with your former students?Yeah, I do. I had one call me last night. “Hey, Dad,” is what he said to me. He’s at American University right now. In fact, he was with two other students who graduated three years ago. They’re all juniors now. One is at Syracuse University studying film and the other is at the Maritime University in Massachusetts. They were all in Washington for a Bancroft School alumni event. My daughter happened to be there too, she’s at George Washington University. They called me just to check in and when they student got on and said, “Hey, Dad, how are you doing?” that was good.

To learn more about the school, visit www.trevor.org