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At first glance, Principal Anthony Barbetta may seem like an ordinary principal. However, what many may not know is that Principal Barbetta is also essentially Assistant Principal Barbetta of Languages Other than English (LOTE), Art, and Music.
For more than a year, Mr. Barbetta has been filling the role of former Assistant Principal Lisa Mars, who unexpectedly departed to become principal of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.
With some members of the community wondering if there are plans to hire a full time replacement, Mr. Barbetta discussed the reasoning behind taking over the position himself.
“The major reason [for not hiring a new AP] is the lack of funds. At Townsend Harris, our money is really dedicated towards the teachers, so when Ms. Mars left, we had an option of filling [Ms. Mars’ position] or a [hiring a new] teacher, and we chose a teacher,” explained Mr. Barbetta.
When Ms. Mars did leave, some of her salary also left because the DOE did not fully reimburse her position and the school owed some money to the DOE.
“We truly did not have the same amount of funds, so we chose not to hire an AP,” Mr. Barbetta explained.
LOTE and arts teachers have varying opinions on not hiring a new assistant principal to replace Ms. Mars.
Art teacher Margherita Wischerth believes that the current situation has both advantages and disadvantages.
“It’s nice that [the teachers] work so well together as a department and that we don’t need someone to supervise; that’s kind of like a pat on the back that we’re all professionals and we know what our job is and what we need to do—but I can see that we don’t have a true advocate,” Ms. Wischerth remarked. “[Mr. Barbetta’s]got other responsibilities too as principal. If you have more than one job, the one that demands more usually gets more of your attention…I have to do things that probably might have been taken care of by my supervisor but now it’s on my shoulders because I don’t have somebody like that.”
Ms. Wischerth also misses having an AP as she said it’s like having “someone in her corner.”
Classical Languages teacher Jonathan Owens said, “I haven’t noticed that much of a difference, but I accredit that to the principal and our own professionalism.”
Spanish teacher Diana Villaverde expresses that occasionally she has to do extra work, but only during special periods, such as Regents week. Each department is responsible for the preparation and distribution of their exams.
“[Mr. Barbetta] is handling it well. He’s always asking if we are okay and he comes up here and makes sure that everything is fine. If we need something, he handles it.”
Some of the LOTE teachers feel that due to his other responsibilities, Mr. Barbetta is less available than Ms. Mars was.
“When you have the AP present next door, just simply that makes things easier,” said Spanish teacher Beatriz Ezquerra. “It’s a question of that you can just pick up the phone and they are there.”
Senior Sarriyah Hanif, who has been involved with the band program for four years, also feels having a separate AP was beneficial, saying, “I think that Mr. Barbetta is so busy doing things for the school as a whole that it’s hard for him to fully do all the things that Ms. Mars used to do. When Ms. Mars was in charge, we knew exactly who to go to, and she was excellent at getting things done. Mr. Barbetta has been doing his best, but we definitely miss Ms. Mars.”
Mr. Barbetta admitted that it is difficult to balance his responsibilities as principal with those of an AP. “But thank goodness that [the teachers are] very competent and dedicated,” he said. “They’re leaders…but if they ever really need me, I’m here.”
Though Ms. Wischerth feels that having an AP would be beneficial, she understands that budget cuts lead to changes.
“I know the principal understands the importance of APs, but it’s having to deal with how the DOE presents the principals with their budgets. [Mr. Barbetta] has got difficult decisions to make.”
Assistant Principal of Humanities Rafal Olechowski believed that Mr. Barbetta’s decision to take over the position has helped the school: “[Mr. Barbetta’s] immediate reaction was to see how else that money could be spent,” he said. “His immediate reaction wasn’t ‘how can we replace that AP’?”
There were other ways of filling Ms. Mars’s position that Mr. Barbetta considered at the time of her departure. “I think given [Mr. Barbetta’s choice], we needed an additional staff member, but I know that …such an active LOTE, music, and art department needs a supervisor,” said Social Studies teacher Franco Scardino, who works on teachers’ union affairs at THHS. “It doesn’t have to be a full-time supervisor, as long as it would be a department chair for [the languages and arts] within the teachers.”
This option is known as the “suburban model,” in which a chair position is rotated between teachers within the department, with the chosen teacher losing a class to make up for the extra responsibilities. Other high schools successfully use this model, including one of THHS’s cohort schools, Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
Though this idea did cross his mind, Mr. Barbetta said, “…the reality is all of our language classes wouldn’t be covered. It’s always a possibility if the money arises or if we don’t need as many language classes.”
There was also the option of having a current AP supervise LOTE and the arts in addition to their own department. However, Mr. Barbetta believes that merging departments would “hurt [the APs’] abilities to keep their departments strong and striving.” Since Mr. Barbetta already had previous experience supervising languages and the arts, he decided to take on the role himself.
“The bottom line is that the principal really picked up a lot of this himself,” said Mr. Olechowski. “He’s really done Ms. Mars’s job and his principal’s job. It’s an amazing work ethic.”
He added that Mr. Barbetta could have delegated LOTE and the arts to other departments, but instead “put everything on his shoulders and said ‘let’s see if we can manage without an AP’.”
In addition to Mr. Barbetta, THHS currently has four APs-one for Math, Science and Technology, one for Guidance and Pupil Personnel Services, one of English and Social Studies, and another for Organization, Health, and Physical Education. Thus, like many schools, these APs were hired to supervise small clusters of departments. Many larger schools may have even more APs dedicated to more specific departments, such as just math.
However, Mr. Barbetta added that for the past ten years or so, some large schools have closed and reopened as smaller schools with only a couple of APs supervising 3-4 departments each. Those hired to fill such positions are informally called “APEs”-APs of Everything. Mr. Barbetta, who mentors people becoming APs, said that a few of his mentees are taking on these roles.
Mr. Barbetta is optimistic that in the coming years, the school will hire a new AP if the budget allows, and he applauds the teachers in the department for being professionals and leaders. He said, “They’re running the show and I make sure they have everything they need. I’m there to support; I’m there to evaluate them; I’m there to meet with them; I’m here to assist if they need. I’m kind of like ‘Mr. Mars’.”