Gary Kalish


The 1997 Pierson graduate, and new Pierson Assistant Principal, talks about what brought him back to the Harbor.


So what have you been up to since you left Pierson?

After high school I went to Hunter College and pursued my bachelors in history. From there I went into the NYC Teaching Fellows program.


Tell me about that.

It’s an organization designed to staff the historically underserved areas of New York City, areas characterized by high poverty, by high need students, typically struggling schools. The program grants you a master’s degree and through that program, I got my master’s from Brooklyn College. They put you in a high needs school as a fulltime teacher and while your in the school you’re pursuing your master’s.


Where did you teach?

The school was PS 41. The Walter Francis White school. It was K through eight. I stayed five years and spent most of my time teaching social studies in middle school and also English language arts. I took part in various activities – a lot of social studies programs, some tutoring and after school programs and a lot of collaborative team meetings.


How did you decide to get into administration?

After I finished my masters, I had the chance to teach at Pace University. I was an adjunct professor and taught Teach for America teachers. They were all grad students and that was my first experience teaching adults. I found that to be really exciting and from there started thinking about administration. Coupled with my experience teaching, and combine that with [teaching grad students], I could see I could maybe offer some change and contribute in a larger way than just in my own classroom.

I found the Principals Academy at Teachers’ College at Columbia. That’s a fast track administration program. Well, not really fast track – it’s an 18-month course designed to train education leaders and I just finished there in the end of July.


How did you find out about the position at Pierson?

I found it online, but I also got a call from a family member. It was funny, I was looking all around the area for positions. I have three children and moving out of the city was something my wife and I had been thinking about for a while. Naturally, I was thinking about moving back here.

The decision was both personal and professional. I can learn and grow from the opportunities, but also, I have the chance to come back home and be a contributing member of the community in my hometown.


How old are your children?

Sophia is five, Jack is two and Julian is four months.


When you were at Pierson did you ever think you would one day be back at the school, policing the halls as an assistant principal?

I knew that I loved school. I took advantage of everything Pierson offered, from theater to sports to the math league to school government. I loved Pierson. I loved the school, I loved the town, but I always knew I would be leaving. I never thought I’d be coming back policing it. It’s something that makes me smile just thinking about it.


This community has always rallied around the school. What do you remember about that when you were a student?

One of the most significant reasons Pierson enjoys the success it has had, is because of the community support it has. It supports its students. It answers the calls of the students’ needs and interests. I know they started up the homecoming again when I was there.

Working in the city, I remember that and it was something I tried to build. I tried to use a lot of the things I learned by involving the community and the families.


Have you been following the school since you’ve been away and are you anxious to jump back in?

I’ve been detached for a while, but I have family here. I know there are a lot more offerings, more AP courses. I anticipate coming in and listening a lot and learning a lot and working with the existing teams that are there.


Speaking of existing teams, there are probably still some teachers that were there when you were. Now you’ll be their superior.

On paper I guess it’s kind of that way. But that’s not how I’m looking at it. I think when you come into a successful school, everyone is operating in the best interest of the students and I think you work together. That’s how I approach leadership and supervision. I look at teaching as a craft and developing it and it’s always ongoing.


What are a few of your memories from Pierson?

The theater, the musicals, that was really great. And being part of the sports teams. I played baseball and we were Class D champs my junior year.

And the teachers, they felt like a really supportive presence. For me, one of the most supportive figures was Art Cleveland. He was the guidance counselor. I always remember how he taught me about setting goals for yourself and following through and being mindful of what’s important to you and working hard to get there.