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Michael J. Fiorello, Principal, Berkeley Avenue Elementary School – Westwood, NJ

Photo of Michael J. FiorelloIf you had to sum up Principal Fiorello’s leadership style in one word, it would be collaborative. To provide exceptional educational opportunities to all students, Principal Fiorello leveraged the entire community to help level the playing field for children attending Berkeley Avenue Elementary School, adopting the “Berkeley Way.”

When Michael Fiorello became principal at Berkeley Avenue Elementary in 2009 the school was a demographic outlier in that it was the most ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically diverse elementary school in an affluent and high-achieving district. Berkeley School was often considered a “challenge.” Principal Fiorello saw it a different way. He recognized the school’s diversity as a benefit, rather than a challenge, and began his tenure by taking a closer look at needs and resources.

What Principal Fiorello discovered was a gap between what was needed to provide an exceptional educational experience for all children and the resources available to the school. His primary goal was to collaborate with school faculty, central office administration, the school board, and the community to leverage, reallocate, and obtain resources to introduce several initiatives and staff to match student needs and increase overall rigor. For example, he campaigned for additional teaching staff and bilingual teachers, helped secure ESSA allocations to support specialized staff and programs for children in need, provided supplemental educational technology, and obtained grant monies for special projects to support health and wellness.

Careful not to impose new ideas or programs onto staff without their support, Principal Fiorello took a team approach to introduce a combination of specialized programs for students and professional development for teachers to strengthen teaching and learning. In doing so, he implemented a daily “Breakfast Club” before school for students and “Homework Club” twice a week after school to reinforce skills and concepts from regular classroom lessons. Principal Fiorello and his staff also pioneered the implementation of mindfulness training, learning alongside staff so he could also serve as one of the trained facilitators. Now, students participate in mindfulness guided exercises throughout the day—a practice that is considered a learning tool at Berkeley.

Principal Fiorello assisted staff in implementing differentiation strategies and supported co-teaching models to strengthen teaching practice and meet the needs of all students in the school. He empowered teachers to use multiple teaching strategies and approaches to suit the needs of students, whether they were performing above or below grade-level expectations. They were also encouraged to collaborate and share strategies through weekly and monthly grade-level teams. As a Professional Development School, Berkeley also provided teachers with embedded opportunities for instructional feedback and planning from Professors in Residence mentors through a co-teaching model in partnership with nearby universities.

To celebrate the school community’s diversity, Principal Fiorello recognized the need to more fully cultivate cultural awareness and acceptance into the school’s culture and educational approach. He and his ELL team established multicultural nights, monthly English language learner parent meetings, multicultural read-alouds, and conducted outreach activities to increase parent engagement, such as Latino Literacy and Technology classes for parents. With the goal of helping all parents feel welcomed and supported by the school, he increased the number of bilingual instructional staff and hired a bilingual school secretary to ensure non-English speaking families feel part of the school community.

The “Berkeley Way” is, simply, doing whatever is needed for all children to thrive. By thoughtfully embracing the school’s diverse student population and working closely with the entire school community to create robust, meaningful learning opportunities, Principal Fiorello has helped chart the “Berkeley Way.”