Meet the Principals: Mark Erlenwein of Staten Island Technical High School

Transcription

Glyn Caddell

So I’m joined here with Mark Erlwnewin. He’s the 2022 New York State Principal of the Year. He’s a principal at Staten Island Technical High School, one of the top high schools in all of New York and even considered one of the top high schools in the country. So that being said, I’m sure many people have a lot of questions about you, about the school, probably about, you know, what’s going on on in here with all these decorations and how you happen to take things to the extreme for your students. Last week, you got a lot of attention for your principal pelf on the shelf where you sat in a display in the hallway.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yes.

Glyn Caddell

How do you come up with stuff like that?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Well, first of all, thank you, Glyn, for having me to join you for this wonderful opportunity to chat about best practices and really what has become a lifelong passion. I get to answer that question. I get to work here at Staten Island Tech in the place where I was a high school student, where I was a child growing up. And when I think back on all the moments in life, those happy, joyous moments that I remember the most, I often find myself coming back to high school thinking about the friends I made, the teachers who are now colleagues and friends here, and understanding all too well, like the plight and the experience of our students. I sum it up just by kind of saying, our students work really hard. So my motto has kind of become, we’re going to work hard, we’re going to play harder. Because our students version of working hard is really working hard and taking it to the extreme. It’s all about balance. I think the one thing I’ve learned 25 years working in this building, starting as a chemistry and technology teacher, is that finding that balance is very tough to do.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So it’s on school leadership and faculty and staff to help show students the way. So sometimes that involves putting yourself in a shelf, dressing up as an elf and just doing anything and everything is to make the students pop, surprise them, to get them to smile or laugh. I guess just strategically this year, I did it at the beginning of the day. If you could start off your day, I believe, with a smile and a laugh and a positive good gesture. The domino effect that takes place after that is so important and meaningful.

 

Glyn Caddell

Right. Something to do. Afraid?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. First impressions or lasting impressions? I really believe that. So why not do that in a school set? Why not give that to the kids? They deserve it, in our opinion. In my opinion. So that’s kind of where it comes from. Just a very simple notion. You know, we’re being asked to reimagine schools like that’s. There’s always these phrases in education that kind of come and go. And the thing right now that we keep on hearing about is, we need to reimagine schools. What does that look like?

Glyn Caddell

It’s totally different. The principal didn’t sit in the display dressed as an elf, as anything when I went here.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s a different approach, but reimagineering using a Quantum and Disney phrase, disney term. There’s a lot to be said for the things that Disney does well that works for them. Even though it’s a theme park and entertainment industry, I think they always strive to achieve customer satisfaction and return. Right. They return to their parks. I think the school is the same thing. You want the students to come to the building each day, show up, be happy, ready to learn. So how do you translate that beyond just the entrance of the building and into the classroom? That’s really where the magic is happening. Right. The principal on the shelf is just one of many things that puts a smile on your face. But once you sit in that seat in the classroom, that’s where the true magic is happening. That’s one of the things I’m proud of, that our faculty and staff talk about reimagineers. They have just simply brought it this principle of the year, acknowledgement whatever I handed over to them. I would not have been given that opportunity or recognition without all their hard work.

Glyn Caddell

So it’s pretty modest, but you do deserve a lot of respect and attention for things you do. This is your 10th year, right?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

My 10th year principal, nontech 25th year in this building. Of course, as you know, like yourself, there were four special years prior to that when I was a student 30 years ago.

Glyn Caddell

Was there like a stunt or some fun thing to do for students that stands out over those past ten years? Because the principal PILF on a shelf got a lot of attention, but it was definitely not the first thing you’ve done.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s one of probably hundreds of things. I’m just going to keep on bringing this back to the metaphor because my son and I, Mark Junior and I and my wife always had an affinity for Bean parks. Right. And if we’re going to use the metaphor, Disney again, who are the casting characters? There are teachers in your high school years, in your formative school years, who are the household names that echo through the four walls, the kitchen table, the dining room table? It’s the teachers, it’s the faculty and the staff. So really just amplifying celebrating and lifting them to enable them to give their best selves. I think one of the greatest parts about our practice here at Staten Island Tech was to say, okay, you’re a pretty incredible physics teacher, so what else can you do? And then take that what else, and turn it into a club or turn it into another opportunity for students to engage. Yeah.

Glyn Caddell

So there’s a lot that you offer now that wasn’t offered when I went. You have teachers who are able to offer those things, but also have the rooms available that didn’t exist prior.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah.

Glyn Caddell

What are some of those things that students can experience here?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

One thing that was always very evidently clear is they use the term gifted and talented. Take that for whatever it is. But wow, are our students gifted, talented, and artistic? I mean, the absolute artisanship that our students possess, well beyond their acumen for intellect and that skill set, how do you take that and leverage that in a classroom setting? So one of the biggest things that we’ve done is take our instructional framework, because at the end of the day, it’s always got to come back to and not to sound like the educator in the room, but that’s what we’re here to do ultimately, is to educate students. But how can you turn the word education and turn it into something that’s very attractive, a sexy word versus a dirty word? Right. Changing our instructional framework to the four C’s. So collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills. So always having that present in our classroom where we’re encouraging students to collaborate and communicate, be creative, and employ critical thinking skills. So one of the ways you’ve been successful in doing that and taking learning outside of the classroom is to create a maker space. Maker spaces are high tech, low tech, no tech spaces that foster creativity and get students to make things.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And they’re often connected with Stem or Steam education. And the irony here at Stepmother and Tech is those teachers are probably the last teachers who are in that room. Our English teachers, our history teachers, our foreign language teachers, our physical education teachers, our mathematics teachers. Occupy that space and get students to take a concept and then bring it to life. Take a mathematical concept and bring it to life.

Glyn Caddell

Do you think there’s an advantage to having someone who isn’t necessarily in that field leading it? Do they bring, like, an outside view or a different creativity?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Interesting question in that. One of the things we’ve been exceptionally lucky and fortunate at doing is attracting really talented teachers who come from that actual world. Like, for example, the gentleman who teaches our Introduction to Stem and Robotics class is an engineer. Our makerspace teacher is not only a computer scientist, but a commercial artist. That’s her license. That’s what she does. That’s what she did for a living. The people who are leading the work in the classroom and outside of the classroom are industry professionals. Our students are being given opportunities to use industry tools. It doesn’t make sense to ask the student to do something that they’re not going to do outside of this building in the real world. So that’s where, I guess when you went to school here and I went to school here, where we’ve always tried to make that true, it’s the standard now. It’s got to be something connected to what’s going to happen outside in the real world and the skill that they need. For instance, we teach students introduction to audio visual engineering. So they’re basically learning storytelling. They’re learning how to run a high definition professional TV studio and do on site locations.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

We’re not creating the next hundreds and hundreds of Francis Ford Coppolas and Spielbergs or George Lucas. That’s not the goal. The goal is similar to what we’re doing right now, filming this storytelling. And our students are not going to be giving seven minute PowerPoint presentations in the future. When their boss asks them for a pitch, they’re going to be making a movie. So how do you do that? So that’s where the practice has really shifted, even when it comes down to teaching writing, how you apply mathematics, like, where does it live in the real world? Taking that one step further to okay, where you can’t necessarily always make it tangible, what else can you do to make it interesting? In our AP Calculus classes, I have teachers who have taken Gamification to the extreme. Like, absolute incredible examples of after you’ve learned a concept, you’ve taken it as far as you can get ready for that assessment. Now what? So they turn these lessons and create these lessons into these competitions. This happens in AP chemistry. This happens in AP Cal. All these different classes that are traditionally deemed these very higher level of college level classes have become these plethora of memorable experiences that engage kids at a very high level and absolutely make them love learning.

Glyn Caddell

Is it like a one-time game at the end of the week, or.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Is it’s happening all the time? I think, to the credit of our teachers, their ability to curate and share and allow me like, one of the unique things our teachers allowed me to do, every single one of our teachers allowed me is a film in their classroom. The students, when I come to observe and visit them, whether I’m doing a formal observation, which is a contractual thing, or they just invite me to come in the room, there’s a mutual trust that I think over 25 years, I’ve worked hard to gain and garner. So for me to be able to film and capture that and then go through the editing process, publish it on social media, it does a couple of different things. Number one, it opens a door and a window for our parents, the community out there who’s wondering about what we do, they can see it themselves. I like to think of this building as containing walls. Built the glass, doors built, the glass. We’re completely transparent. This is what’s happening inside the classroom. And as I’m doing that, I’m very explicitly and intentionally curating all these lessons so I can share them with other teachers. Like, hey, you should really see what Miss Asher did in her AP Calculus AV class the other day using Gamification and then saying, just, you should see it here’s the link. Watch it and get inspired. Get excited. Of course, having a 15 year old son, all of us who have children of whom which we ask, how is your school day? What did you do today? Good. Great. Good. Nothing. This has been an interesting opportunity to change and flip the answer. Tune in, folks. Tune in. The parent yourself. What’s going on? And there’s nothing greater than celebrating your staff. I’m like, I’m so proud of what they do. They show my appreciation for them and then show others what they’re doing. Just makes sense. It’s a good practice.

Glyn Caddell

Awesome. There are a couple of things STEM related going on, too. Like, I think is it the makerspace or is it an engineering class that has the CNC machine?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah, so we’ve been in the process. So at Staten Island Tech, students absolutely have to take a two year pre engineering sequence, which often comes with the curiosity and are wondering, well, I don’t think I want to be an engineer. That’s not my game plan. But it’s really come down to I.

Glyn Caddell

Can tell you, it’s better to know beforehand because I got my degree in civil engineering. Well, started civil then I went to mechanical and then now it’s totally different. So it’s good to be introduced.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. And it’s interesting, Glyn, because I’ve shifted my practice when I speak to prospective families about this, because taking for just what it is, staten Island Technical High School, to think we’re just a pre engineering school and a Stem school. Wow. You’ve missed everything that’s special about our school. It’s a part of who we are, but it’s not who we’ve become and who we are now, but the Stem program. And I make a point of talking to prospective families, parents and students about this is that the pre engineering sequence are really the most vital and important, in my opinion. In our opinion. Transferable skills and tools that you’re going to need in every walk of life. For example, in the introduction, audio visual and engineering class that every 9th grader takes for a half a year. That’s going to teach you storytelling. That’s going to teach you, number one, how to work with a team of students. They learn how to run every piece of equipment in that TV studio. And this is an industry level television studio, I’ve been told. In some cases, this is better than what we have at the new station.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Students are generally learning how to run.

Glyn Caddell

It’S only a few years old or five years old, something like that.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s been around we’ve had it probably close to seven to ten years now. It’s been a blur.

Glyn Caddell

Seems new to me.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s been a long time. But as we’ve kept the equipment upgraded and kept it evolving, this use is invaluable because it’s teaching students how to work as a team, how to be creative. Students enjoy the class and most importantly, storytelling, like how they themselves can be the content creator and the prosumer there’s, those produced and consume at the same time. We’ve all become prosumers in some way, shape or form. So we’re teaching students how to do that. It’s a vital tool. They’re going to need that in every walk of life. Second half of the 9th grade, they’re taking the Introduction to Stem and Engineering class that teaches problem solving once again. And what is actually interestingly become is the first time our students truly learn how to fail. And when I say that, I mean.

Glyn Caddell

I’ve heard rumors about there’s like a gear ratio test or something like that from students. Yes, it’s a killer.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So it’s one of the classes and experiences the students are most fond of. Students can walk away with a B minus in that class and still say it was such a memorable, fun experience. They’ve earned that grade throwing through. But most importantly, they’re going to build a robot. And we at Staten Island Tech, we’ve adopted mastery based assessment and mastery based instructional practices that operationalizes the whole process of failure. The notion that one and done is the way and it’s been kind of become synonymous with schools like ours. Is everything’s a traditional test. You think about the test the students take to get into our school. It’s a one and done test. It’s multiple choice, kind of should all work, but it’s really just a one and done opportunity. So we’ve changed the paradigm here from one and done to one and some. We use a practice and a philosophy around restorative assessment when students don’t do as well on the assessment.

Glyn Caddell

Where we can’t do that has a few definitions.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. Restorative often comes with the notion of it’s used in education around the idea of discipline, restorative circle. When a student has a sort of behavioral issue at school, rather than suspension, you bring them to the table and you talk about it, you work on it, you iron it out in an effort to try to avoid suspension. I like to refer to it, I kind of conceptualize it as we’re creating a unitary, not a punitive process in education. So what if you apply that grade wise, not dissipation wise, what if you apply that to assessment? Does school have to be the way it is, the way we remember it, the way our parents grew up? It doesn’t. So when are the adults going to grab the opportunity and flip things in favor of the students? Because right now it’s in favor of us, our unions, the way the bureaucracy of how the systems work. The students are often the last to be considered, although we say they’re the first in the buck process. Right. But they just systemically wind up on the short end of the stick, I feel sometimes. So what if we flipped it in their favor? So we created two things like we encourage teachers to think alternatively, assess alternatively, use real world experiences and tools to assess students learning. Use our maker space. Take a unit at a time. You don’t do this in one year. You have ten units in a curriculum. You don’t do this for all ten units. You pick one unit, one topic, and each year you take the time to hone in on that particular unit and recraft it. Ten years goes by really quickly in education. Before you know it, you’ve remodeled and reimagined your whole curriculum to reinvent how you teach kids and how then you assess them.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

But where? It’s kind of tough to assess student alternatively, like an AP cal class or an AP science class. We created something called a restorative assessment center, where when a student doesn’t quite hit the mark that they were hoping to achieve, or the teacher doesn’t feel they have as well, a student can ask for reassessment where they get a different exam. And we have a center in the building where the student could schedule the reassessment either during the lunch periods or after school, and taking the lift off the teacher’s shoulders. We have a team whose job it is to proctor and administer the exams, taking academic honesty into account, making it very safe, making it very fair. And then the student gets the opportunity after they’ve relearned the material to show that they’ve learned that material.

Glyn Caddell

So it’s not like they’re doing other tasks to boost their grade. They’re getting another chance to study for it, to learn the material tested again.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah, some people might look at it, okay, that’s just another fancy way of doing extra credit. Not really, but it’s not looking at it.

Glyn Caddell

They’re still tested on what they should know.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Exactly. We’re putting it in favor of the students. The students are getting to reclaim the knowledge, relearn restore at their own pace, and it puts the instruction at their own pace, and in turn, what a lot of teachers have done and are beginning to do. And we’re figuring out how to scale this school wide because it has to look different in different disciplines. You can’t do this in every class the same way. It looks very different. Teachers are taking more time for shorter, more frequent, smaller exams or quizzes rather than large unit exams. Assessing a little bit more frequently, but in shorter bursts, where the students get the multiple opportunities. And what they have found is they have been able to complete and go deeper into their curriculum. So more breadth versus just topically, what they typically cover, they’ve been able to go deeper than they have before. The students disposition on this is that they now, I think, really feel that their teacher is a partner versus just this person who gives them a grade. Right. There’s a mutual respect here and a partnership that goes well beyond the traditional experience that students and teachers once had.

Glyn Caddell

They could see that the changes are in their favor. It’s to support them. They should be thankful, I guess. Well, it’s not necessarily be thankful, but they appreciate the change that I made to make their lives easier.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And I think that’s indicative of real life. Glenn. I mean, I think of all the times I moved my office from the second floor, which is now the career development center. I felt so far disconnected from the faculty and staff when they walked in the morning. I was missing a vital opportunity to take the temperature and the climate of the building before the day ever started. Matter of fact, I was missing an opportunity to impact the temperature and turn around upside down, right? Positive. Maybe that’ll translate to what happens in the classroom with the students. Once I did that and just really getting a chance to chat with the teachers and talk and understand and really cultivate this idea around what education can look like and what assessment can look like, this began to shape and come together. And in essence, what we’ve begun to see happening is there’s been a tremendous drop off. I won’t say disappearance because I’m sure it happens in other ways. Academic dishonesty just not happening anymore. Why? Because the students see an alternative. The students like, I don’t have to make an unhealthy decision or a poor decision if I didn’t get the material the right the first time.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Like I said, I moved down into the general office. So when a teacher comes up to me and says, I’m not going to get that report to you that you asked for on time today, fine, just a conversation. Just establish a relationship and ask them for a second chance or an extension, that’s it. The answer is always going to be yes. We work to yes. So why are we doing that for kids? Why doesn’t that exist in the classroom? Why doesn’t that exist in the process? So figuring that out and hasn’t happened overnight. It’s taken ten years to get to this point to come across and sell the Y. Selling the Y hasn’t been too tough because the flight, the fight that our students experience each day just to be of them.

Glyn Caddell

And a lot of the teachers here were students here also. They understand it firsthand, just like you did.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. Having an ever growing number of alumni who’ve returned become teachers, administrators and such, there’s a deep understanding and devotion to that mindset. I always use the acronym Techies. Techies is an acronym for Techies. Think excellence can happen in everything. Think excellence can happen in everything. That’s the acronym for Techies in my book. In every situation maybe, which is a problem and a curse would, you know, it’s a blessing and a curse to think that excellence can happen at everything without the expectation that failure will probably come first before you ever achieve excellence. We’ve worked really hard to operationalize failure and to make that a part of the process and to make students truly believe that failure is an opportunity versus a final measurement or judgment or mark. I think about the things in my life I love and enjoy the most. I love being at an amusement park. I’m a huge wrestling fan, WWE fan. So this spectacle of attending one of their events definitely is rubbed off on me. So really it just comes down to making a strong first impression, making the school can’t miss, making the moments memorable. We pay a lot of money to go on a four dimensional ride at Disney. Why can’t school be a 4D ride? Why can’t you feel it, smell it, see it? That’s what we kind of do here. I guess the principal on the shelfing is just one small example. If you looked really closer and walked our hallways, you’ll notice when you walk in, it smells like waffles.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

I did notice, yeah. That’s on purpose. We found this aroma, this company that actually same technology that Disney uses to kind of pump and smells different atmospheres.

Glyn Caddell

That’s the 4D, right?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yes, that’s the 4D. Experience the sight, smells, and sounds at Statin Island Tech. When the bells ring at Statin Island Tech to tell you to go to your next class, it’s not a bell. It’s a song that students help curate that change every day throughout the course of the year.

Glyn Caddell

May I have heard that Nintendo theme before is one of the songs.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah, it depends on the holidays. There will be a lot of holiday music representative of all the cultures and diversity within our school. So when it comes to those special times of the year where the holidays are upon us, I like to try to do something a little extra special. I think remembering very clearly as a student here how hard our students worked and how hard I had to work. My motto has kind of become, our students work hard, so they got to play harder. Because our students version of work hard is to really work hard. It’s intense. So the idea of creating the balance by making it light, making the school enjoyable, who’s to say what school is supposed to look like and feel like? Why can’t it be fun? How do you make it can’t miss? How do you compete against everything else that grabs our students attention?

Glyn Caddell

I’ve heard you say before you called it kind of like imagineering, right?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. In education right now, the term reimagined comes up frequently. Reimagining the school experience. So we’ve taken that to heart here. We have a school full of reimagineers. We’re reimagineering what school feels like and how it interacts with our students life before and after school.

Glyn Caddell

So aside from the fun stuff that goes on here, I know there’s a lot of things that are offered here that are relatively new that definitely didn’t exist when I was here. Some of them are Stem related. Some may fall under, I guess, steam.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Right.

Glyn Caddell

With the arts. Tell me about some of the things that are offered.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. When you hear the word and the name bar school? Staten Island Technical High School. I think the biggest misstep, the misnomer is just to assume that we’re a technical school, and it’s just Stem. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth with as far as we’ve come in redefining and reimagining the experience here at our school, we have set out to attract and recruit the best of the best educators in each of the various fields that we offer. I think what we do exceptionally well and what was transitioned and changed is our students are going to go on to some of the best colleges and quite expensive. So I feel it’s imperative and on us to help them try to figure out as much as possible while they’re in high school where they want to lean and put their energy and their efforts on towards post secondary school. Because our students are really good at a lot of different things, and it’s a blessing and a curse. You graduate from the school academically exceptional. So how do you figure out that one thing you want to do, they call your career. So we’ve instituted a career development center here at Staten Island Tech, where, starting at the end of the 9th grade, you can get your first paid internship.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

One of the ways we do that, Glenn, kind of learning from experience in terms of what students need. You serving on our Career and Technical Education Advisory Board. We lean on not only the colleges, but our workforce partners in understanding what our children will need in the future to be successful in life. When I say that, I mean our students take a class called Introduction to Technology and Career Development.

Glyn Caddell

Is that like tokened by you or did you claim that?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s a byproduct of something I’ve been working on and with a team in our career. Career in Technical Education Department. Mr. Fitzpatrick. Mr. Manzo. After understanding and realizing that soft skills were largely lost on our student population, and what better a way to impart these skills? When I talk about soft skills, I’m talking about being able to make eye contact, shake a hand, introduce yourself, build your brand in person and digitally how to conduct yourself. And, you know, technology, we call it Auracy here, you know, from a United Kingdom curriculum called Voice 21. They teach oracy from kindergarten till 12th grade. So we fused that program along with the Hope Skills. You know, Bob Wolfe, the founder of Hope Skills, which takes all the mechanics of soft skills speaking effectively and in teaching those students in a course that they have to take into 9th grade once a week. And the course is taught by the work based learning coordinator, whose job it is to put students into internships. So at the end of the 9th grade, what awaits our students is their first job. But doing something that they find interesting. So imagine wanting to possibly become an architect or an engineer and having the skills to actually and then having to actually do that.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And then we put you in an architect’s office and you go there after school. I went to Burring King after school, which was great.

Glyn Caddell

I don’t regret framing.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

A lot of our students don’t have a choice. They have to work to help support their families. So why not work? Doing something that might align to their career interests in college and beyond one day get paid for it. We’ve been so successful with this that out of the 1370 students, 720 students last year from from last summer to this summer were enrolled in paid internships, earning $1.5 million in income. Yeah, personal income for them as students. So that’s one of the biggest things I’d say, is we’ve transitioned to doing to extending learning outside of the classroom through work based learning. Really just transitioning away from traditional grades. We don’t use numerical grades here at Stat Island Tech. We use letter grades and mastery based assessment code grades. We’ve transitioned away from one and done assessment to one and some. You get multiple opportunities and chances. We’ve been working hard to operationalize failure, where failure is seen as an opportunity versus a final judgment. But how do you actually turn that into a process in the classroom? We’re utilizing a lot of alternative assessment. We’re using industry tools and problem based learning and project based learning in place of traditional assessments to assess whether or not the students understand the material and can connect it to the real world and application.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And then where we can’t do that and you’re a more rigorous course like an AP Chem or an AP Calculus, A, B and BC. Using a lot of gamification to really engage and make the experiences. Funeral for students and utilizing a restorative assessment center to give students a second chance. So when a student doesn’t do well on assessment, they can ask the student of the teacher for a reassessment. Schedule a session in the reassessment center, which is run by other staff members so the teachers don’t have to do the proctoring and all the additional extra lift of monitoring that. So it takes that off the teacher’s shoulders and gives the students an opportunity during their lunch or after lunch periods or after school to reassess after they’ve relearned the content that they didn’t learn the first time. Quite honestly, like in the real world, sometimes we need a second chance. That happens in the real world.

Glyn Caddell

It’s not like they’re doing extra credit to get a higher score. No, they actually have to learn it. They have to be tested on it similar to the first test.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Right.

Glyn Caddell

And then if they do better, then they get exactly.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

I look at it as a metaphorical U-turn in the academic road, in the academic pathway, if you can get off the exit, go back and try it again. Why not? Why can’t education be like that? Education is often very punitive, and we’re trying to make it punitive where the student sees the teacher as a partner versus this very old school way of looking at that relationship between I learned from you and you assess me, you tell me how well I’m doing it’s.

Glyn Caddell

Like adversaries in the past, in some cases.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So doing that has created a greater sense of confidence. It’s eased the stress of our students. The things that students don’t like about I’m not saying that stress is negative. Like stress is necessary with high achieving students and just any student for that matter. The amount of stress and the aura that school creates, this punitive feeling, we got to do something about that. So just what we’ve really worked at Hard here at Staten Island Tech is to put things in favor of the students. I think the bureaucracy of any system, our unions and such like that, who do really great work, understandably. But sometimes students get the short end of all best and good intentions, right? So doing something thoughtful and meaningful to put it in their favor, to give them that second chance, because sometimes they just have a bad night. They run out of time to study. I’d rather a student come to a teacher and say, I had a bad night, I had a tragedy family. I just couldn’t get enough time to study and review. I’m going to do poor on this test. And for the teacher to be able to say, do your best, and then you’ll get a second shot.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Let’s see how you do it on the test, and you get a second shot to prove yourself, relearn the material. And if that gives the student an option other than to cheat or academic choose academic dishonesty when there’s a shortcoming or they run out of time, well, that’s the championship moment, because that builds trust, that builds empathy, that builds communication skills that you need in the real world. In real in the real world, faculty and staff asked me for second chances and extensions all the time. And we we try to work towards yes all the time, so why not do that for kids?

Glyn Caddell

Makes a lot of sense, especially if you think about the purpose of school and education, right. The goal is to teach them, right? Not necessarily just to test them on everything. So if they’re going to end up learning the material, then give me the.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Opportunity to yeah, I think we as educators lose sight of that sometimes, which is why I think at commencement time, I got so fed up with hearing that cliche of failure is an important part of the process. And it became such a cliche thing to say in commencement speeches. I’d roll my eyes. I promise I’d never use that in a speech until I could actually operationalize it. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve created a practice of failure where it’s okay to fail. I like to call it a fail sale and trail success. Fail. First attempt in learning. That’s the acronym. Second attempt in learning. Third attempt in learning fail, sale and tail. Success. It’s a process.

Glyn Caddell

Awesome. You do a lot in the school. Like you make yourself available to the students here, to the teachers. Your office used to be up on the second floor. You moved it down here to be more, I guess, in touch of what’s going on and making sure you have your finger on the pulse.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Right.

Glyn Caddell

Being involved takes a lot of time and energy to be the principal of this school. But I know that you also reach out to other schools and in support with giving them resources, bringing students into the school, you invite fifth graders and 7th graders to the school. Tell me a little bit about why you do that.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s all about relationship building. I think the biggest fail of any system is to create so much distance between the people who run the system and can make the greatest impact and the people who you serve. Right. So when you allude to my second floor office, I moved to the general office. Smaller room.

Glyn Caddell

It’s like a galley. Like on a galley, right.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Smaller room but with a purpose. I wanted to be right where all the faculty and staff walked in each morning. I wanted to have control of what that space felt like. So as you can see here, wherever I go, that decor goes as well. So try to create a space in a place that brings happiness and leaves a strong first impression. Because my hunch is a domino effect. If they come in happy and strong and leave with a smile on their face when they get to their classrooms, that’s going to domino effect towards the students. I started using a mobile desk this year where I just set myself up in the first, 2nd, 3rd floor anywhere in the hallways. I’m sorry.

Glyn Caddell

It’s pretty crazy.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

I can’t imagine that the amount of emails, reports and compliance items that we have to conduct has only grown. So what do you do to create that balance? In order to get out of my office, I took created a mobile office. And what that means for me is I get to be accessible to students, faculty and staff in the hallways while typing an email, there I am. You want to find me? It’s not going to be hard to find because my mobile desk has lights on it. It’s blinking. You can’t miss me. So taking that same philosophy in practice and then applying it to our elementary and middle schools, creating the Visit program that invites the fifth and 7th graders and then gives parents opportunities to come here more regularly when you click on the Contact US button in our school website, little do most people know that goes right into my inbox. You’re going to get an email back and a response from the principal of the school. So I really, truly value and find importance in being accessible to the people who you serve and work with. I try to uphold the idea that if you reach out to me, I’ll get back to you within 24 seconds, minutes, or hours upon your first outreach, because that’s important.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

The expectation is that these questions and these outreaches and these communications go unfounded and unheard. And we’ve worked really hard to create and reestablish what communicating with the high school could feel like and be like. Just all that work that we’ve put out there. One of the things I’m proud of, our Visit program, which you’re a part of, bringing fifth and 7th graders in on a regular basis, but doing it intentionally through figuring out feeder school patterns. Like PS 78 is 49 5th graders and 7th graders come into our school together, and they get a tour from Staten Island Tech. Students who went to 78 and 40, and it’s all instructional. They go into our TV studio, they get a TV studio lesson, a robotics lesson, a Russian lesson, AutoCAD lesson. Then they get a specialized high school admissions test lesson from Cadel Prep, courtesy of you. And all we hope is when they leave, they go back home that night and they’re so excited about Staten Island Tech. They tell their parents about it, their grandparents and siblings, and then we become an option for them. This school in 103, six area code that to a student in 1030, somewhere on Staten Island, might have never thought of going into that neighborhood, our neighborhood.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

That’s real. When you talk about diversity and how we can improve upon diversity for everything that the city is trying to do and we try to do as educators, it all comes back to establishing trust and relationships with the people in the community who we serve. Without that, everything else is just noise. Everything else sometimes is looked upon, is disingenuous, because it doesn’t really connect or connect with the people who you are trying to connect with.

Glyn Caddell

Like, going there and giving a speech about the school and saying, you’re welcome is much different than having them come here, experience it, and realize that they are welcome. And they see older students who go here that went to their school, they could relate to them.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. If I’m being deemed as the person or the face that runs the place, you should be able to connect with that person.

Glyn Caddell

How do you think that the students here would describe you?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

How would they describe me? It’s an interesting question, as I’ve grown more comfortable doing what I do. This has been a 25 year journey for me, with four years prior to that. Whereas I was a student here, I’m nowhere near the person I was where I began. And if you ever told me as a student here in the 1980s that I’d be this person doing what I’m doing now. I would say, you’re crazy. That’s not who I am. This place has had a great influence on who I’ve become, how students possibly look at me. I started as that principal and a three piece suit with a vest and a tie and the shirts and all that stuff, and I’ve transitioned towards more school spirit wear. Wear my Tech a Maniac shirt. My Staten Island Tech hoodies. More casual. I hope they see me as approachable sometimes. They might not even see me because I maybe look I don’t know if I look like them, because age, as much as I don’t want to think 30 years has passed by and has, I hope they see me as friendly, approachable, someone they could talk with, someone they trust, someone who cares.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Try to show them it’s okay to have a sense of humor is so important. It’s okay to have fun. It’s okay to love what you’re doing.

Glyn Caddell

Right?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s okay to be a geek. It’s okay to be a nerd. I’m the biggest geek. I’m the biggest nerd, admittedly. It’s okay to be corny. And I accredit that to our kids. I remember distinctly, and when I went to high school, you could classify the different types of groups of students, and now I just see it. It’s all meshed as one. Like, the beautiful thing about our school now is the 9th graders or friends with the 12th graders, 11th and 10th graders. There’s no barriers between social norms. There’s just this beautiful mixture of friendships and relationships, cross grade levels, religions, creeds, belief systems. So I hope what they see is, you know, what I hope that they always are exposed or immersed in environments like this. More often than not, once they leave here, they really get a sense or a taste of the real world. This is unlike the real world. Yeah, they’ll never know. They come to the school probably in some cases as the valedictorian salutatory in their previous school. And we don’t acknowledge that anymore. It’s the first year that we’re not acknowledging balance out. And those speeches will be determined via an audition process versus whoever got the two highest scores.

Glyn Caddell

A lot of times it comes down to, like, .01 points.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Such an archaic way of looking at things and and organizing success and recognizing success.

Glyn Caddell

And I mean, like, one one 4.21.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And 470 kids could be the valedictorians who were a toy and in our school and any other school, so but they come here of that stature, and then they’re immersed in the entire population of students of the same stature. So you do that for four years and you go out into the real world, you have to recalibrate it again. But I always write this in my yearbook clerk to students today and my commencement speech to the students. I hope that this normal that they experience every day here at Staten Island Tech, which is so abnormal, continues throughout their life. They always get the opportunity to be surrounded by such superhuman individuals like themselves and their peers.

Glyn Caddell

So you were actually my chemistry teacher when I came here, and I think I would describe you as fun. You were still fun back then, maybe dialed down a little bit, but you definitely had fun. But you’re someone who took his job really seriously and I think went beyond what I expected of a teacher. So there’s a specific moment I remember where we’re given some report. I don’t know what the purpose of it was, but you could do any science report you wanted. So I was like, I’ll just do the science of a football, right? Like physics or whatever it was. Right. And I think I didn’t take it so seriously because it seemed like it was just something that the DOE wanted us to do – to incorporate writing. Right. And it wasn’t like something I think maybe came directly from me. I don’t know, maybe it did, but it seemed odd because it could be any science. So I started doing the research last minute and realizing that I was not going to understand what I intended to. So I was thinking, he’s my chemistry teacher. This is mostly physics based. I could probably just BS some of it and include some facts about drag and lift and gravity and stuff like that and pressure and be all right.

Glyn Caddell

And then I was really surprised. I got my report back. I got a C- on it. And what really impressed me, though, was that almost everything was corrected. So this wasn’t like you’re, a subject you were teaching, but you went out of your way to actually look at everything I wrote and tell me exactly what was wrong and what it should have been, which was a huge lesson as far as how seriously you should take your job. Because not the only person who wrote a report. You had classes of students doing this and you did that for every student. So that was really incredible.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Well, you’re probably at the disadvantage of not knowing at the time that when I originally applied to become a teacher here at Staten Island Tech, I applied for an English position and ended up in a chemistry position that didn’t work to your benefit.

Glyn Caddell

But not just the grammar. The science was also corrected.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

But my background in physical therapy and as an English rhetoric major in college. As I tell all of our students now, guys, gals are so talented and everything. Double, triple major in college. You can do it. You can handle it. Do it, because you just never know in life where it’s going to help you, right? And at that time, I was heading some of the research in the physical therapy department, the college Stat Island Advanced Human Assessment, where we actually would look at how human beings interact with physical objects, taking kinesiology and mechanics biomechanics into play. So if I recall correctly, a lot of sense now. Yeah. No, your article, the application resonated with me in a different level, and regrettably, I think something that always bothered me back then, which made me want to connect with kids even more, is that C minus that I handed back to you, it felt incomplete. It felt like something more had to happen after that. I think that’s where a lot of some of the fun antics that kind of emerged in my chemistry class back then came from, is giving those extra opportunities to not let that crush you or cripple the relationship I had.

Glyn Caddell

I still did well in your class because I did pretty well on your actual yeah, absolutely.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

And I think that’s really played into the newer philosophy and practice that we employ now at our school is we encourage teachers to, like, does everything have to count? Because looking at what some of the teachers, the amount of work our teachers are putting into counting and assessing and grading, we were working way too hard and not smart enough in a case like that. Now, maybe you’d get feedback versus a grade feedback. It might be a better impact or point of return versus actual points. Right.

Glyn Caddell

So keep in mind, think about you in high school, right. What advice would you give a freshman version of yourself, knowing what you know now?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So knowing what I know now and just I’m in awe of our students who are in high school now, are teenagers now. Being a teenager in 2022 is so tough. I’m in there’s so much noise and competing priorities and things and disruptions that get in the way of just living. Growing up is supposed to be messy. Absolutely messy. Terrifying, glorifying process. And we didn’t grow up under the microscope of a video camera and social media where our worst and our best moments can be replayed and commented on and shared and liked and repurposed to help us, used against us. So my greatest piece of advice to students is to really be thoughtful and think about how you want others to view you and receive you and how you want them to remember you. Because at my 25th reunion five years ago, all I was able to do was take out of your book and some Polaroids and pictures and then whatever. This time, whatever you remember is what we talked about. These students at their 25th reunion are going to be able to take out a camera phone and play their worst and best moments over and over again in perpetuity.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So knowing that, I often use the example.

Glyn Caddell

It’s a pretty terrible and intimidating thought, but it’s real.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It’s real. I use the example. On your way to school this morning, young man or a young lady, you were recorded by probably ten to 20 different cameras on a doorbell. Where do we ever think there’d be a camera on a doorbell? Never mind the speed cameras that plagued Staten Islands roadways. We didn’t grow up that way, right? That’s not the way their childhood was supposed to play out. Everything you do is recorded, so they have to assume that they’re always being recorded. So knowing that and being conscious of that and just being present, being really present and aware that’s the best advice I can give our students is knowing that you live in a world now where instant replay can help hinder or hurt you in any way. And I use that phrase a lot with the decision making people can take into situation and help hinder or hurt somebody. So what will that information, that footage, that text that you sent, that comment that you made in a Google document that you were sharing with other students, it’s all susceptible to be used at a later date. So now more than ever, like who we are as a human being, how we want to be remembered, what our values are, the things we say, what we mean when we say them, what our facial expression says, what we put on a social media post, what we write and publish matters.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

It all matters. Which is why our academic policy years ago, we changed. I took Dr. Aronson’s phrase. Everything counts. And I use that often with our students. Everything counts wasn’t intended to be that way. But more than ever now, everything counts. Everything that you do counts. So treat people how you want to be treated and how you want to be remembered is your responsibility. You create that. That’s the advice I give the kids.

Glyn Caddell

It’s good advice, everybody. I feel it also pretty deep. So I’ll end up with a more fun question, but it’s probably going to be the hardest question you’ve ever been asked, I imagine. So I think speaking of social media, anyone who follows you on Facebook or Twitter or maybe anyone has even spent like 10 seconds with you, knows that you are obsessed with WWE and Star Wars. So if you had to choose only one of them to keep, which one would it be?

Principal Mark Erlenwein

So Staten Island Technical High School. The acronym is Sips. S-I-T-H-S-I-T-H-S.

Glyn Caddell

Yes, even here. Merry SITHSMAS.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

I’ll never escape that, right? But if I had to think about something and this fondest memory of being four years old watching Channel Nine Television in December and watching what was then the WWF on TV and then my dad taking me to my first wrestling event at Madison Square Garden, which I was at on Monday this past week, the December 26 WWE holiday show at my son and my wife.

Glyn Caddell

Like family tradition.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah, it’s a family tradition. It’s been a lifelong I don’t follow sports. I watch wrestling. That’s my escape. But the spectacle and just the exuberance and the stupendousness that WWE and wrestling, sports, entertainment, whatever you ought to call brings. I think you see a lot of that in what I bring to our school, definitely. So if I had to pick one, it’s definitely a WWE for life.

Glyn Caddell

The custom shirt.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah. Maniac spirit of Hulkamania hulkamaniacs. This is my techamaniac shirt. And if there’s a WWE universe, I think there’s a sips universe, too. All right.

Glyn Caddell

It’s a tough question, I think.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Yeah.

Glyn Caddell

I’m surprised you’re able to choose one, but thank you. That was awesome. I appreciate you making the time for us, and you’re very welcome.

Principal Mark Erlenwein

Thank you. Glyn, thank you for joining us. All right. Awesome.

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