Elisa Brown believes that children deserve an education that will help them graduate from college, become leaders in their community, and enjoy the benefits of personal freedom and good citizenship. To accomplish that goal, she, and the PS 249 – The Caton School staff insist that all students meet and exceed grade level standards, become lifelong learners, and move toward post-secondary education. Principal Brown’s motto is, “let’s not settle for mediocrity when excellence is attainable.” To achieve excellence, every educator must be relentless, driven, and passionate about ensuring the success of each child under their care.
When Principal Brown first came to PS 249 – The Caton School, in 2000, she was charged with raising student performance and teacher effectiveness. PS 249 is a Title I school with a diverse student population in Brooklyn, New York. Over a period of approximately ten years, she led the school’s transformation to a high performing school, receiving an “A” rating. By 2012, 99% of the school’s third graders were proficient or above in mathematics.
Principal Brown believes that school improvement must be designed and involve all constituents in the school community so that everyone buys into the improvement process. She started by pairing experienced teachers with new teachers to analyze student data and provide professional development through a co-teaching model. She coached teachers in analyzing student data and implementing research-based practices. She promoted the vision that every student, without exception and without excuse, can experience academic success, becoming proficient or advanced in reading, writing, and mathematics. This “all hands on deck” culture motivated the school toward its vision and mission.
To get buy-in from other experts in the school, Principal Brown implemented distributive leadership structures. For example, to motivate staff to learn and grow, she created teaming structures and career ladder positions for teachers that moved from model teacher, teacher leader, to master teacher. Today the school includes tiers of leadership and a variety of teams at each grade level, across grade levels, and schoolwide. Meeting weekly and/or monthly, teams examine student work and analyze data, develop curriculum goals, and share curriculum maps so content and goals are consistent across grade levels. Then they review the uniformity of instruction.
In collaboration with staff, Principal Brown transformed PS 249 by leading the creation of cohesive systems and structures into every facet of the school, including curriculum, daily agendas, professional development, and teams. When she saw how effective lab-sites were in the professional development (PD) of teachers, she led the submission of the application to become a Progressive Redesign Opportunity School for Excellence. The school shifted from traditional PD sessions to weekly labs where teachers learn alongside their colleagues while receiving authentic hands-on experiences with students. This new approach to PD provided teachers with opportunities to implement strategies in a supportive learning environment with on-the-spot feedback.
Over time, Principal Brown developed trust between the school and families and promoted partnerships with community organizations. For example, the school has a partnership with the Noel Pointer Foundation to teach students violin and a cultural arts organization to teach African dance and drumming. Recently, the school partnered with the Child Mind Institute to support parents and teachers as the school moves toward becoming a healing-centered and trauma-informed care school. The school offers multiple ways for families to engage throughout the school year, including translation services. College awareness is a common theme throughout PS 249 and students develop a passion to pursue higher education as the school celebrates the value and opportunities it can bring.
Principal Elisa Brown considers herself a lifelong learner committed to the needs of her entire school community and will not settle for anything short of excellence. As a result, the work that Elisa Brown and her staff have accomplished has changed the trajectory of thousands of students at PS 249 – The Caton School.