Alternative education is nothing new to Jonah Schenker, the new principal of the Ulster BOCES Center for Alternative Education (CAE) in Port Ewen. The New Paltz resident, who served as the center’s assistant principal last year, spent five years working at a non-traditional high school in New York City.
“I was part of a team of teachers and administrators who created an alternative school in Brooklyn,” he recalls. “We served a student population that was similar to this school’s—over-aged, under-credited, at-risk youth.”
Schenker subsequently taught art for three years at Dover Union Free Middle/High School in Dutchess County. Since arriving at Ulster BOCES three years ago, he has served in a variety of roles, including working as an arts-in-education coordinator and an instructional specialist.
Schenker’s own educational route was somewhat unorthodox. “My schooling was very non-traditional,” he remembers. “After graduating from New Paltz High School, I spent two years at SUNY Geneseo and then studied outdoor education through the University of Southern Maine, in conjunction with Outward Bound leadership training.”
During this time, his education often took place on board a boat in the Florida Keys. Afterwards, he was not particularly eager to return to a traditional college classroom. He decided to design an independent course of study through Empire State College. His studies involved traveling throughout the world, studying art history, literature, photography and writing.
After receiving a BA in liberal arts from Empire State, Schenker continued his education at SUNY New Paltz, where he received a Master of Science in Education and a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) in School Leadership.
Since being appointed principal in July, Schenker has been spearheading a number of changes at the CAE, including separating the student body into small “learning communities.” Students in the center’s various programs — i.e., the Alt (Alternative Program), the APIE program (Asperger Program for Independent Education), the MNP (Management Needs Program), and the Alpha Program (for students who receive specialized therapeutic services for psychiatric issues) — are now eating together, taking gym together and taking electives together, Schenker explains.
Schenker is also focusing on instruction. “We need to take a look at what is actually going on in the classroom,” he says. “It’s a fascinating time to do so, because of all the new initiatives coming out of the State Education Department — Race to the Top, the Common Core Standards and the new APPRs (Annual Professional Performance Reviews). It is good timing to be able to embrace those changes and initiatives and also look internally to make sure we’re meeting our students’ needs.”