Next year Patricia Peterson will join PS 8 as an interim acting assistant principal. Ms. Peterson knows many of our staff members and has collaborated with the school numerous times during her long and impressive career in education.
Ms. Peterson lives with her husband and two sons in Carroll Gardens. From a young age she knew she wanted to be a teacher and studied early childhood education as an undergrad while majoring in English literature. Ms. Peterson went on to earn a master’s degree in early childhood and elementary education from the pioneering and progressive Bank Street College of Education in New York City.
Working in Brooklyn schools since 1993, Ms. Peterson began her teaching career at Packer Collegiate Institute. After Packer, she taught at PS 29 in Cobble Hill in a gifted and talented third grade classroom. It was at this time she was chosen to be part of a teacher-leader administrative program where she took classes alongside Seth Phillips. Their professional relationship continued when Mr. Phillips became principal at PS 8, and PS 29 was asked to serve as a partner/mentor school. After a number of years, Ms. Peterson moved from being a classroom teacher to gifted and talented/enrichment coordinator for Region 8. Although PS 8 was not a designated gifted and talented school, Ms. Peterson worked with its teachers to deepen the curriculum and enrichments. As she describes it, “We did a lot of work in the vein of Joseph Renzulli’s framework of giftedness. For us as teachers, it’s identifying what a child’s interests and strengths are and how we tap into those areas. At PS 8, you can see this in curricular units such as the second grade’s Box City.” She explains that some children are very engaged with the construction of the boxes, while others are drawn in by the social aspect of the experience. Over many years, PS 8 Staff Developer Melissa Browning has been impressed with Ms. Peterson. “She loves to go to conferences and read up on latest education models. She truly believes in professional development and always brings the best people in to give workshops. I think she’s a great fit for PS 8.”
Over time, Ms. Peterson has taken on a variety of roles within the Department of Education, serving a school-based math coach, an assistant principal, an instructional specialist, a deputy network leader and most recently as an instructional lead at the Brooklyn North Field Support Center, where she specializes in elementary math. Throughout her extensive career, PS 8 has been a frequent resource and incubation site for her work. “When there was a program to initiate and we needed a school to partner with us, I would get PS 8 involved,” she says. “PS 8 teachers were our thought partners. They are such strong teachers, always willing to try new things, but also putting students first. They are willing to question, which is important. I like that reflection piece: All that we do has to work for our particular students.”
Assistant Principal Bob Mikos echoes that sentiment. He says, “Throughout the years, she has always looked out for PS 8, and when there was an exciting initiative or program, she’d reach out to get us involved.” Mr. Mikos looks forward to working with Ms. Peterson. “I’ve known her for 10 years and have worked closely with her, especially in math and in bringing programs to our school to challenge our students. We really bonded because we share such a similar philosophy and vision for education. We are both interested in hands-on exploration, developing problem-solving skills, real-world skills and building the vocabulary and language to support the learning.”
Some of this hands-on learning can be seen in her enthusiasm for kindergarten classrooms. “I love kindergarten. Because of my training from Bank Street, I’m a real believer in the importance of manipulatives [objects or materials that children can handle to aid in problem solving] and project-based learning. When I first started in Region 8, I remember calling teachers at the private school City and Country in Manhattan [famous for their block program] to create partnerships with some public schools. We would take pre-k, kindergarten and first grade teachers and do after-school ‘block groups.’ These days many kids come to school with so many skills already because of their time in preschool, but we need still to make sure that all the fundamentals are in place for future learning.”
Asked what might surprise families about herself, Ms. Peterson shared that, “as a student, I was not great at math. Now my strength as a curriculum person is in math. Because I felt I was the worst math student, I really focused on math, and manipulatives helped me as an adult!” Ms. Peterson has been very impressed with the Bridges curriculum that PS 8 adopted. “The previous program, Everyday Math, worked well for kids in the middle, but less so for kids who struggle with math and for those who are very strong. That program didn’t work well for teachers implementing the Common Core. People starting talking about Bridges, and I worked with [former PS 8 teacher] Carrie Saffady, Bob Mikos and others at PS 8 as they implemented it.”
While math may not have been her favorite as a child, Ms. Peterson has very fond memories of her elementary school years as a student at PS 29. “As a child, I was always reading. I would read everything. At school, my fifth grade teacher would read Shakespeare. I remember him reading Macbeth and we did improv [based on the] play.” She recalls how the school took advantage of the wonderful community surrounding it. “As a fourth grader, I walked with my group to a local studio and worked with parents who were silk screeners. We each created a design that was significant to us and then created a print.” The connection between teachers and the community was strong. “When I was a teacher at PS 29, I would take a small rotating group of my students to Cobble Hill Park on Verandah Place once a week. I worked out a schedule so we would have real time to talk. The students would tell me things that they might not say in the classroom.”
It is these types of interactions that make her work with elementary students so compelling. “People think it’s easy to teach the younger grades. But it’s not. There’s so much time and energy we spend as educators just making sure these young people are OK, focusing on the socio-emotional parts of a child. If you don’t have that, you won’t be able to focus on the math and science and reading. I’m all about rigor and high expectations, but it’s also important that our children are in a place where they know people support them.”
She also points out that with elementary grades, teachers have to teach all subject areas rather than focusing on just one area of content. This is why Ms. Peterson believes collaboration is so vital amongst teachers at a school. Many of the teachers at PS 8 have had long professional ties to Ms. Peterson and are excited to welcome her into the school. Second grade teacher Melissa Merriam says, “I’ve known Trish for many years and am looking forward to working with her and learning more from her. She is so knowledgeable, easy to work with, approachable and genuine.”
Another key partnership, says Ms. Peterson, is that between families and schools. “Communication can be hard, and we need to work together.” She has missed her work with families during her years out of a school and looks forward to getting to know the PS 8 community both informally and as partners in student education. She says, “As a working mom, when I’m invited and able to visit my child’s school, I want it to be meaningful.”
When asked if she shares Principal Phillips’ deep enthusiasm for the Mets, Ms. Peterson confesses, “I grew up as a Mets fan. I married a Yankees fan, and now with two sons who are Yankees fans, I’ve moved, too. Though my house has a lot of teams. We follow every sport except hockey; I just go season to season.” She has not switched loyalties on her favorite performer, though. “I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I will be taking my youngest son to his first concert — a Springsteen concert — in August!”
Ms. Peterson looks forward to strengthening PS 8’s already impressive program. “It’s a great time at PS 8,” she asserts. “Most of the work on the Common Core is already done. I’m excited about how we can now upgrade our really strong curriculum units, ways we can integrate technology. Not reinventing our units, but what are the tweaks that can bring us into the 21st century?”