Tarell Hoskey just completed his first month as the Principal of KIPP AMP Elementary School in Crown Heights, though this is far from his first experience in Brooklyn elementary schools. In fact, this is Tarell’s third decade in this community! Tarell grew up in Brooklyn, attending PS 151 and IS 347 in Bushwick. He then worked across elementary schools in the borough for the NYC Department of Health, going into schools and promoting healthy school policies. Driven by a desire to help others, he delved deeper into childhood health in Brooklyn, monitoring for food-borne illnesses in the kitchens of local daycare centers. Despite being responsible for protecting the health and well-being of children, he wanted to more directly impact the lives of students in Brooklyn.
Tarell’s career in education started with Teach for America when he was placed at Leadership Prep Bedford Stuyvesant Academy. He moved quickly into school leadership there before becoming Director of Elementary Academics at KIPP NYC, during which time he supported KIPP AMP Elementary. He was then selected to be in KIPP NYC’s Principal in Residence program, spending last year helping to lead AMP Elementary, before being named school Principal ahead in the spring. Needless to say, Tarell knows KIPP AMP very well!
Nevertheless, the impact of the COVID pandemic on the school community is not anything that he could have fully prepared for. He has relied on his experience in the Brooklyn community, years at KIPP AMP, and instincts as a leader to guide students, families, and staff through challenges and new approaches to running a school.
Tarell’s experience last year creating a remote learning environment as a Principal in Residence was challenging and exciting at the same time:
“We’d never done anything like this as an elementary school. Taking attendance [remotely] and getting kids on platforms – then we got into how to modify the curriculum. The challenge was engaging everyone. We thought that because we gave everyone a computer, mifi, platforms they would get on. We would send text messages and incentivize kids with dance parties. We had teachers visit kids so they would get on. The more we engaged families in conversation the more we’d get attendance up. Attendance was up to the mid-90s by the time we got to January.”
Looking at student work is a meaningful component of our educators’ approach to understanding where students are in their learning and to supporting their growth. That was challenging during remote school, so for those families who had difficulty uploading documents to the online platform, Tarell devised a system where they would take pictures of their students’ work and text it to the teachers. He also held regular Zoom and FaceTime one-on-one and group sessions with families to help them with their tech questions.
To create a positive and cohesive school culture last year, he brought together over 400 dancing and singing students and families each week on a live Zoom call during PRIDE Circle. In fact, due to restrictions on the size of gatherings, PRIDE Circle is over Zoom again at the outset of this year with kids’ joining from their respective classrooms.
Tarell is amazed at both the physical growth of his students and how well they’ve adapted to returning to the classroom with the health and safety measures that are in place:
“They’ve grown so much. Socially, kids are playing well with each other particularly with respect to sharing. The cool piece is I realize how resilient kids are. They know COVID is a thing; they are OK wearing a mask. Kids come in and they know the drill. We follow all of the health & safety policies, and make sure those things are happening every day. Being transparent with families about what is happening. It’s been really cool to have everybody back in the building. I’ve been counting down the days. It feels semi-normal. It’s just been fun and enjoyable. If kids can be that calm and chill, I can do the same thing.”
In what will be another school year in which we expect the unexpected, the KIPP AMP Elementary community is fortunate to have Mr. Hoskey, with his years of experience as a Brooklyn educator, at the helm to lead them forward.