By Derek Topper
As of July 15, 2014, Mr. William Stroud became the principal of Long Beach High School. With over three decades of experience, Mr. Stroud has worked on improving education across the globe, most recently serving as Assistant Director at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at Columbia University. Mr. Stroud has previously founded East Harlem’s Urban Peace Academy in 1993 and Queens’ Baccalaureate School for Global Education in 2002.
He has helped to expand access to the International Baccalaureate Program and has worked in the field of education for over thirty years. He now comes to Long Beach High School to serve as principal and face a new challenge. I sat down with Mr. Stroud for an interview to discuss his plans for Long Beach High School.
1. You have held various positions in the field of education; what made you decide to apply to be the principal of Long Beach High School? Do you think that you can apply knowledge from your previous experiences to Long Beach High School?
Yes, I think that I can. The work that I’ve done previously is relevant. I’ve been a principal for a number of years in another school, and I’ve worked with various school districts over the past five years. I have been working in connecting the new research knowledge in the field of education to practitioners, so I’ve been bridging the world of researchers and educators in schools. That’s some of the work that I’d like to do here. What attracted me to Long Beach is the diversity of the community, which was very important to me. There is a proven track record of improvement and success in the high school over the last few years. When I came here and met people, I liked the teachers, school staff and district administrators that I met.
2. What do you see as your primary mission for this year at Long Beach High School? What changes do you hope to make during your time at Long Beach High School?
I would like this to be a school community where people look out for one another. There has been a history of groups not getting along, and I want to remedy that. I’m very interested in thinking about what kind of world we want to live in and how we interact with people who are different from us. I want to create a community where there’s unity with the diversity in our school and where we pay attention to creating a place where everyone looks out for one another. The other thing I’m interested in, is making sure that every student has the best possible education that they can get while at Long Beach High School so they are prepared for success when they leave here. If they want to go to a university, they’ll be well prepared. If they want to go to go to a vocational training or into the job world, then students have had experiences here at Long Beach High School that prepares them fully for success in their lives.
3. Are there any specific changes that you wish to make from things that you’ve seen over your month or so at Long Beach High School?
I haven’t decided yet. I decided before I came that I wasn’t going to make changes in the school until I understood how things work here and until I talked to people in the school community about what alternatives we could make. I am also very interested in a democratic workplace, and I want to include both teachers and school staff in the decisions that are made. Changes are still a work in progress.
It’s interesting that you gave that response as I conducted a similar interview with last year’s interim principal, and he recommended that you: “get to know people before you institute changes. Before you try to put your stamp on the school, you should get to know the students and the staff and the rest of the faculty, and build a rapport and relations with all of those individuals before you go forward.”
4. It has been brought up in many classes that you essentially have four pillars that compose your education philosophy; can you elaborate that for us?
I wouldn’t say that they are my pillars of educational philosophy, but they are more so habits of conduct that guide how we should act in school. I think fundamentally that this has to be a safe place for everyone. It has to be physically safe and emotionally safe. We don’t want to be making fun or ridiculing other people. It has to be a place that’s safe to make mistakes since we learn from them. Safety is really important.
Being kind to each other is something that there is too little of in the world, and if we’re going to be a community that looks out for one another then being kind is a quality that I’d like to see that we find in all parts of our school community.
“Taking care of our space” is important since we should all want to leave the world a better place than it was when we entered it. Taking care of it ecologically, or keeping it clean, or making it aesthetically more attractive are all important things to me.
I would define “participate fully” as giving everyone the chance to go for what they choose to do. These are the four because they don’t just apply to the world in school, but we can use these when we’re out of school too.
5. One of your philosophies is called “keeping our space clean,” which raised an interesting question on whether students should eat in the classrooms. Do you feel that they should be able to, and would you agree that maybe all students should be required to have a particular period for lunch?
Yes I do, I think that classrooms are for studying, working and doing science, math, reading, writing or discussing. Eating is a time that everybody should have. Everybody needs time, when they’re not studying, to be relaxing and socializing. There has to be a place for that also. I would like to figure out how we can have a schedule that is challenging for students academically and at the same time, there is a time built in to the schedule for everyone to have lunch.
6.You’ve been a principal before, so what are the best aspects of being a principal? What are the most difficult aspects of being a principal?
That’s a great question. The best aspect I think is that education is fundamental to how we understand ourselves as human beings, how the world works and what kind world we want to live in. Being a principal is a chance to be involved in a school community that thinks about those things and works with young people to create that world every day. That’s what I like best.
The hardest thing, is that all of the problems that we see in society and in communities, we can find in schools. In the world that we live in schools have been identified as the source of all of these problems when in fact those problems just reside in our communities and show themselves in schools. Addressing issues of racism, bias, and inequality are part of the social fabric of our society unfortunately. We are challenged to address those every day and those are problems that are much bigger than those that are resolvable in schools. However, they are something that we have to live with.
7. What is your leadership style and how will you go about solving problems that will arise this year and coming years?
My leadership style is to build collective leadership in the school. Decisions that impact people have to be discussed by all of the people that it affects, so it is worth it to have participation from teachers, students, parents in decision-making. Most times we address the symptoms of problems rather than the cause of them. If you’re talking about how to solve problems, you have to first identify what is the underlying source of the problem.
Were accustomed to dealing with the symptoms of the problem and if we keep dealing with the symptoms, were just going to get more symptoms. Secondly, I think we need to include people who are knowledgeable about the issues of the school and what we’re trying to address, and being inclusive of multiple points, of view to try to come up with an approach that everyone may not fully agree with but that everyone understands and can live with as an acceptable approach.
8. You’ve been heavily involved expanding the IB programs especially the expansion of the Diploma Program and Middle Years Program, why do you feel that the IB’s curriculum is particularly beneficial over AP?
I think that the content of IB is a better subject content than many other curriculums both conceptually, and that it identifies critical content and academic disciplines in a better way. I think it’s more challenging and that it tries to connect the relevance of academic learning to the way that the world works in a way that makes it more relevant than textbook curriculum.
9. How do you value the role of extracurricular activities in school life, and would you say that they help students plan their future careers?
Well in a sense, they aren’t really extracurricular, they are more fundamental. What we call “extracurriculars” are in many cases just as important as mathematics or history, which are also very important. However, so are the performance groups and art and music and sports programs because they teach you to work as a team through cooperating, and performing together. In many cases those are just as important as the academic subjects.
10. What is your policy on the usage of cellphones in school? Has that been affected by the recent incident with app Yik Yak?
I think that inherently banning cellphones doesn’t make any sense, but from what I can see, cellphones are a distraction to learning. Since school is a place where we learn and work together, need to minimize the impact of some of these things. I’m interested in minimizing the impact of cellphones unless we can find a productive way to use them where were actually using them in a way that’s beneficial to learning.
11. What do you think can be done to improve school spirit within Long Beach High School?
I think that we have to pay more attention to doing things that are fun for the students here and bring people together as a whole school community. Things that are student-oriented and organized by students with more student input. My impression is that the adults have had a lot of responsibilities about authority and decision-making and if you feel left out of that then its hard to feel like you belong.
I think that when we look back over the last 150 years, that Karl Marx was one of the greatest intellectuals of our time, as was Charles Darwin. I think that the influence that Marx and Darwin have had on the experimental sciences, natural sciences and social sciences has influenced our understanding of the world in more significant ways than any other intellectuals or philosophers or scientists. They were both scientists.
The particular poster in my office was given to me by a friend in Poland. He’s Polish by birth but his family fled in the 1930s and then went to Sweden then England and he now lives in London. He’s work as a math educator in Britain for a number of years. We worked together on a school improvement project in Poland. I’ve been working with fifteen schools over the last three years. As a result of both being in the field of education and his Eastern European roots, he and I have talked a lot about Karl Marx and capitalism and socialism and sort of the course of history. He gave me this poster.
I like to include artifacts of work that I have done previously, so I have this here which is from Thailand, Jerusalem, Guadalajara and Amman, Jordan. I like to bring various things that I’ve worked with in the past. I’ve done quite a lot of work about education for democracy and human rights and I think that if more people read the Declaration for Human Rights and paid more attention to it as a guideline, then we’d be in better shape as a world.
It seems like Mr. Stroud is ready to face new challenges here at Long Beach High School and is excited for the upcoming year. He has a great passion for making this school a better place and is excited to work with students to make it happen. We can only hope that Mr. Stroud is able to make Long Beach High School, a better place for students, faculty and future generations.