Interim Acting Principal Jie Zhang is no stranger to Stuyvesant High School. A parent to two Stuyvesant students, an involved member of the New York City math community, a former specialized high school principal, and most recently Stuyvesant’s network leader, Zhang can say with confidence she is already quite familiar with her new home.
However, nothing could prepare her to become the leader of Stuyvesant overnight. Due to the cloud of controversy that came out of the school’s recent cheating scandal, the media and members of the Stuyvesant community will be watching her every move in the coming months. Nevertheless, she is “confident we’re going to have a smooth transition,” she said.
Zhang recognizes that it is up to her to create this smooth transition, but she also admits that she has plenty of learning to do before she can make any major decisions. Of course, everybody wants to know how she is going to approach the hot-button issue at Stuyvesant: cheating. Zhang has recognized this and has already begun to tackle this problem as one of her priorities as the new principal. “We had a Cabinet Meeting with the 11 Assistant Principals and we spent a lot of time talking about our plans,” she said. “All of us agreed that we, as a community, will address the academic honesty.”
While this might lead to an increased emphasis on rules and regulations this year, Zhang has never been one to treat her students as second-class citizens. She insists that she will have an open-door policy. “You’re welcome to learn from my old school what kind of leader I am. I am definitely student-centered, very much a listener,” she said.
Zhang said that as Principal of Queens High School for the Sciences at York College she was always available to her students. She believes that her pupils should have their voice heard and is open to meeting with the Student Union (SU) on a regular basis. Newly elected SU President Adam Lieber intends to embrace the new principal’s approach. “I plan on being respectfully assertive. I think that good communication will be a key to getting through this transition, so I hope to hold frequent meetings with Ms. Zhang regarding projects that the SU is pursuing,” he said in an email interview.
Zhang will not only appeal to students this fall. Parents will find their new principal to be particularly relatable because she has been in their shoes for years. Her son graduated from Stuyvesant in 2008 and her daughter is currently entering her junior year. Zhang says she had many discussions with her daughter before accepting the position this summer. She believes that, with some help, her experience as a Stuyvesant parent will serve as a blessing and in no way a burden this year. “I hope that students will help with the situation and make her childhood as normal as possible,” she said.
Zhang has two things that should guide her as principal this year: experience as a leader and a passion for Stuyvesant and all it stands for. What’s more, she has the support of former Principal Stanley Teitel with her as well. “[He] left a message on my cell phone that I am going to save forever, and he congratulated me on my selection as his replacement,” she said. Like her predecessor she intends to uphold the traditions of the school, including its math and science reputation.
Zhang is a math-first woman and does not foresee that changing as principal. Though as a Chinese-born immigrant she recognizes the great value of learning to read and write as a high level, don’t expect her to pull resources out of the math and sciences and into the humanities anytime soon. However, she will admit that she cannot make any definitive statements on how she will approach managing the finances of the school just yet. She has yet to master the ins and outs of the school budget and is working to adjust to leading a school with far more resources than she’s ever worked with before
Indeed Zhang is quite aware that she is stepping into big shoes this fall. While she believes she is prepared to lead, she is also humbled that she was picked for the job. She intends to validate her selection by directing the school away from its recent traumas, and back on the track that made the school one of the premier public high schools in the city for decades.
“I want to keep all the good traditions of the school, and obviously as a new leader you look into issues to be resolved,” Zhang said. “No matter where we are in a year I think we will be in a better place.”