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New Principal Envisions High School in the New Millennium

Joe Palumbo explains his visions for BHS going into his first academic year as principal.

As the new academic year begins this week, Brookfield High School (BHS) Principal Joe Palumbo said for freshmen is an “ambitious” plan that will require “classroom management” from teachers to address the “distractibility factor” that occurs when students have access to the Internet.

Palumbo, 33, who was elevated , said that during a recent education conference in New York City, a speaker asked the audience at the end of his 30-minute presentation about how many of them had checked their email messages while he was speaking.

“Of course, my hand was in the air with about 75 percent of the people,” he said.

“The easy way out of this would be to ask all our students to put their devices away when they’re in the classroom,” Palumbo said of the iPads, which are being distributed to each ninth-grader. “But I don’t think that’s realistic.”

“I think our responsibility as educators to 21st Century learners is to teach students to manage that distractibility factor and still be productive,” he said. “I think that is accomplished through classroom management.”

“If the plan was to just hand these students devices, I would be real worried about the direction we’re going in,” Palumbo said in an interview last week. “But we’re not doing that.”

Art Colley, the business and technology director for the school district, has said students will receive instruction through the Skills21 class in, among other things, digital citizenship and how to determine the reliability of sources on the Internet.

He has said the iPad program is the first of its kind at a Connecticut public school.

Palumbo said by using the iPads, which will also be distributed to future freshmen classes, the school will have “paper-less” courses, which will save money on photocopying and benefit the environment by saving some trees that otherwise would be used to make more paper.

Economics professor Tyler Cowen of George Mason University in Virginia wrote in his recent book, The Great Stagnation, that digitization is often creating fewer jobs than earlier innovations. He noted that the automobile industry produced millions of jobs but Facebook has only generated 2,000 positions.

However, other economists have stated that the United States has a history of creating new jobs as technology evolves, noting that over the last century the country has added positions even though over that time the agriculture sector has gone from 40 percent of the work force to just two percent while technology has allowed for even more food production.

“I told the parents at our freshmen orientation that our goal is to prepare your children for jobs that don’t even exist,” Palumbo said, noting that it is difficult to predict what some of the new positions might be 20 years from now.

On another topic, Palumbo said the 83-minute block schedule that began at BHS two years ago, with the core classes meeting on alternate days, is the best format he has worked with since it has allowed teachers and students to have more thoughtful discussions.

He said he hopes that the block schedule’s flexibility will allow for even more collaboration between teachers in different subject areas.

Palumbo said in Europe, for example, “the educators spend as much time working with each other as they spend working with the students. That’s a complete contradiction to what you see in an American high school or middle school.”

“At Brookfield, we’re trying to promote that collaboration with the staff,” the principal said. “I see us creating more interdepartmental connections.”

Palumbo, who lives in Brookfield with his wife, Bonnie, a middle school reading teacher in Brewster, N.Y., and their two daughters — Adriann, four, and Penny, three — said he plans to be “visible” at the school and will serve as a facilitator during the flex session discussions that are held with students.

Palumbo, a former assistant football coach at BHS, said he already has visited some of the sports practices so he could interact with the athletes.

“I do a lot of administrative tasks during the day, but I see the primary role of principal as being an instructional leader,” said Palumbo, who was an assistant principal at Westhill High School in Stamford before arriving at BHS in 2009.

On a separate subject, he said he believes that President Obama’s proposal to extend the academic year from 182 to 197 days could be implemented.

“There’s a lot of research out there that says it would be a better strategy than what we have right now,” Palumbo said.

He said educators should take “a thoughtful approach” on how they would utilize the additional 15 academic days.

Barbara Moore August 30, 2011 at 12:23 PM
I'm was impressed with Mr. Palumbo at the HS orientation. I like and agree with his vision for education moving into the future. I'm pleased that my daughter will benefit from his leadership.
Christine Daley August 30, 2011 at 12:31 PM
It's refreshing to read about an educator/administrator who is brave enough to embrace new technology which is ever-present and cannot be ignored. Instead of banning or restricting its usage in the classroom which has been the MO in our schools these last few years, Mr. Palumbo recognizes the technological and sociological changes occurring at lightning speed in our everyday life and the need to teach our children how to successfully incorporate it. This philosophy reminds me of a video I saw on Ted.com by Sir Ken Robinson, one I highly recommend all to see: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
Christine Daley August 30, 2011 at 12:34 PM
By the way, if the video link I posted doesn't work the first time, just refresh your screen.

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