Dimitres Pantelidis

Real champions inspire us because we know they give everything to make a difference. Through this column, we are helping make known real champions in the lives of children and youth. At NCUST, we are thankful for all the many equity champions who are, each day, changing lives, changing schools, and changing communities.

Dimitres Pantelidis

“It is all about respect and consistency,” the parent of a Patrick Henry Preparatory School student explained. Even though over 87% of the students are Latinx or Black, most of the students meet low-income criteria, and none of the students are admitted through selective processes, the parent explained that Patrick Henry, in New York City’s East Harlem, is one of the highest performing schools in the state of New York. “That’s why I rerouted my kids here,” the parent emphasized. “It’s because of the traditions, the consistency, and the respect the principal has shown. The teachers are the same. It’s home. It feels safe. You can see it in how the principal carries himself. You can see it in the way he shows leadership to his staff. And, then the staff shows that same respect to kids and parents. It hasn’t failed.”

Dimitres Pantelidis, known as “Mr. P,” has been the school’s principal since 1999. Many of the parents of Patrick Henry students credit Mr. P for shaping the backbone of the school’s improvement efforts. In 2018, Patrick Henry Preparatory School (P.S./I.S. 171) earned NCUST’s America’s Best Urban School Gold Award. In referring to Mr. P’s role in the school’s success, one parent explained, “He believes in our kids. Regardless of race. Regardless of family income. He knows our kids can succeed, so he does whatever it takes to make sure they succeed!” Unlike some educational leaders who become enamored with every educational reform or innovation, Mr. P has consistently kept Patrick Henry focused on a few core ideas popularized by Bill Daggett over two decades ago: rigor, relevance, and relationships.

At Patrick Henry, Mr. P and his team of teachers, administrators, and support staff have worked together to ensure that all students experience a level of academic rigor that will prepare them for success in high school, college, and careers. For example, during eighth grade, many Patrick Henry students take New York High School Regents Courses. “This way they are ahead of their peers when they get into ninth grade,” Mr. P. explained. Throughout the past two decades, Principal Pantelidis and his colleagues have pushed themselves to elevate the rigor of what they teach, because they believe they can change students’ lives by leading them to master concepts and skills that many students of color are never given the opportunity to access.

Discussions about rigor have changed how teachers and administrators plan what is taught, when it is taught, and how it is taught so all students are more likely to achieve deep levels of understanding. Unlike many schools that offer some students rigorous learning opportunities, Patrick Henry educators have committed to offering all students a rigorous “instructional core.”  At Patrick Henry, educators have helped each other design powerful lessons that give all students great opportunities to develop deep understandings of challenging concepts. Providing rigor means more than challenging students: it means providing students the support they need to learn the rigorous concept or skill well.

It is also important to note, that Patrick Henry educators have realized that students are more likely to reach high levels of rigor when lessons ensure a high level of relevance to students’ lives. At Patrick Henry, educators have spent thousands of hours identifying materials, planning strategies, and trying approaches that help Patrick Henry students see how rigorous academic concepts are important in their lives. Patrick Henry teachers have demonstrated that their students will master challenging algebraic standards when teachers help their students see how the concepts relate to issues the students have experienced or are likely to experience. As well, Patrick Henry students have proven they can master rigorous English language arts standards related to issues such as the analysis of text structures, the citation of textual evidence, or the variations in character point of view when students are utilizing literature that resonates with their backgrounds and experiences. Consistent with frameworks developed by Dr. Gholdy Muhammad, Mr. P and other Patrick Henry leaders have led the school’s educators in critically examining the curriculum to ensure it included multicultural and diverse characters, histories, and themes that resonated with the lives and experiences of Patrick Henry students. Thus, Patrick Henry fourth-grade students read, “Resist: 40 Profiles of Ordinary People Who Rose Up Against Tyranny and Injustice” by Veronica Chambers. Fifth-grade students read, “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Shetterly. Sixth-grade students read, “Children of Blood and Bone,” by Tomi Adeyemi. At every grade level, students read challenging texts that reflect their backgrounds, cultures, and experiences in ways that maximize the extent to which students perceive that school is relevant to their lives.

Day in and day out, you can count on him to keep the needs of children first.

While Patrick Henry students value the rigor of their curriculum and appreciate the relevance of the literature they experience, students were most emphatic about the relationships they enjoyed with their teachers, Mr. P, and other Patrick Henry staff members. Students reported that their teachers believed in them, cared about them, and wanted them to succeed in school and in life. Students and parents talked about the ways in which Mr. P and other Patrick Henry educators took the time to know them and find ways to support them. As one child explained, “It is easy to be successful here because everyone is working with you to help you succeed.”

Teachers, staff members, parents, and district administrators acknowledge the pivotal role Mr. P has played in ensuring the success of Patrick Henry. “He arrives here before anyone else,” one teacher explained. “If you need something in order to teach a concept, he will find a way to get it for you,” another teacher affirmed. “Day in and day out, you can count on him to keep the needs of children first,” a parent attested. For over two decades, Mr. P has consistently done what was necessary to ensure that every child is well-positioned to succeed academically and in life.

When Black Students Excel

More can be learned about Patrick Henry Preparatory School, Principal Pantelidis, and his impressive team of educators in the soon-to-be-released book, When Black Students Excel: How Schools Can Engage and Empower Black Students.

Concourse Village Elementary School
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