College For Some, Directly To Well-Paying Jobs For Others, Staten Island High School Does It All
BY CHUCK WILBANKS
A couple of busloads of rapt seventh graders began weighing their career options on a visit to Staten Island’s Tottenville High School on Feb. 27.
Tottenville, a school with a robust menu of Career and Technical Education (CTE) offerings, still focuses on attracting students who want to go to college and perhaps even graduate school. But Principal Joseph Scarmato, who was building on February’s status as CTE Month, has been working hard to burnish the school’s reputation as one which also provides students a leg up for well-paying jobs right after graduating with a high school diploma.
“We take pride in all of our programs but this is a gem, and almost a hidden secret,” said Mr. Scarmato. “We certainly don’t hide it, but some people just don’t know. We’re trying to change that.”
Tottenville educates about 4000 students, and roughly 1000 of them are enrolled in the CTE program, said Assistant Principal Cliff Bloom. In addition to automotive and culinary programs, there are programs teaching computer science, advertising and design, dental care, health and medical assisting, finance and law. Teachers and Tottenville CTE participants told the prospective students of two key rationales for enrolling in the program. One was dollars and cents practicality.
“If I lost my job today, do you know what I would be doing tomorrow?” asked automotive teacher Gerard D’Ambrosio. “I’d be going to work. I have a skill that no one can take away.”
In addition to discussing the obvious benefits of learning a trade, the teachers emphasized how pursuing these worldly programs also added a deep relevance to subjects that otherwise may seem, well, academic.
CSA President Mark Cannizzaro, himself a Tottenville graduate, also spoke to the students. “Tottenville was a great school in 1982 and it will be a great school in 2022 as well,” he said, referring to the year the potential students will graduate.
Edward Burke, Staten Island’s Deputy Borough President extolled to the students the many resources available at the school. His presence was an important indicator of the sup- port Tottenville has among com- munity and political leaders.
Tottenville’s story is also one of a collaborative approach between teachers and administrators. Leo Gordon, a CTE specialist with the United Federation of Teachers, told the students that everyone working in the program looks for the many facets of life that students enjoy, from music to video games, are rooted in the pro- grams. “Our job is to guide you into a career you love,” he said.
Gordon’s team at UFT pro- vides deep layers of professional development for teachers in the CTE curriculum. In a conversation after the presentation, Mr. Gordon emphasized how educators in the program focus on ways to tie in the instruction of traditional academic subject matter to classes about practical skills.
Mr. Scarmato said the same “We focused primarily on seventh and eighth graders,” Mr. Scarmato said. “We want to send the message home to parents that academics are closely tied into career and technical education.”
The visit by the students was one of several Mr. Scarmato had lined up in late February. Others included IS 75 and IS 34.
Mr. Scarmato, principal of the school since 2014, said that Tottenville is doing all it can to promote in the community the knowledge of the CTE component to the school, at the same time they have been bolstering the infrastructure of the pro- gram itself, with the help of a grant from the city of $400,000. Banners outside proclaim the various courses offered, and the school has undertaken upgrades to the culinary arts lab, the courtroom and finance rooms, and the dental lab.
“CTE was in place when I got here but it was somewhat in the dark,” he said. “We’re just trying to get the word out for this terrific opportunity.”
The efforts seem to be working. “All the kids were excited,” he said of the recruitment presentation to students from IS 7. “Teachers and administrators asked if we could set up a similar night for parents.”
The de Blasio administration filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court on Friday in the case of Janus v. AFSCME. The administration’s position is that unions must have the right to collect dues.
CSA is grateful for the administration’s support.“We are pleased that New York City recognizes the vital role of unions in sustaining its working class and middle class,” said CSA President Mark Cannizzaro. “The Supreme Court case threatens to significantly undermine these protections at a watershed moment when the American middle class is eroding and wealth is concentrating increasingly in the hands of the very few.”
In announcing the filing, Mayor de Blasio noted how high are the stakes. “New York City is the city it is today because of the hardworking unionized men and women who built it and run it. Our city is stronger because of unions’ ability to organize and fight for all of our rights. Especially in the face of our current political climate, we should be bolstering tools for empowering and protecting workers not making them more difficult to come by.”