Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village has had its fair share of problems including a reputation for poor academic performance and bad student behavior, but one man wants to lead the crusade to turn things around. He’s Sam Sochet, and he’s the school’s new principal. He spoke about his vision for Van Buren at a Community Board 12 meeting on Jan. 16 in St. Albans.
“I looked at it and I thought, why is this place considered an undesirable location for families to send their children?” Sochet said. “And every day since I’ve been there, I keep asking myself that question, because it’s a wonderful school.”
But Van Buren’s progress reports and grades disagree with that assessment, Sochet noted. For the 2010-11 school year, it received a D, and for the 2011-12 school year it got a C, so it did go up, but only by a small amount, signifying that more work lies ahead. And Sochet says he knows how to get it done.
It is a three-pronged approach. First the culture of the school needs to change, Sochet said, from an environment that blames the students to one where the adults take ownership of what they need to do and are open to new ways of thinking and growing. It’s a gradual shift Sochet has been working on for the last six months.
The second piece is to reach out to the neighborhood through community boards, civic associations, middle schools and their principals, elementary schools and their principals and try to change Van Buren’s image.
The third aspect focuses on learning and teaching — making sure that educators have a modern skill set and that they are willing to change unsuccessful methods, something Sochet said is easier for newer teachers as opposed to more experienced ones who tend to be more fixed in their ways.
Van Buren’s new mission is to change and adapt to accommodate its evolving community of learners, both academically and socially. In line with doing so, the school will have four new specialized programs, each of which will be affiliated with a college or hospital, and will be aimed at attracting new pupils.
Those programs are premedical, robotics engineering, forensics law and computer technology.
Sochet started at Van Buren on July 1 when summer school was taking place and said he was amazed by the size of the school. It’s a 340,000-square-foot facility. Sochet had been an assistant principal at Thomas Edison High School in Jamaica for seven years and was a teacher at Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside for eight years.
“Every school I’ve ever been in has been successful, and it’s been successful because people worked hard,” Sochet said. “Schools are not just automatically great places, or not-so-great places. It has to do with the effort that the adults put into it. The adults create the culture of a school, not the kids.”