Bed-Stuy school principal Adofo Muhammad has worked in the field of education for 10 years “in three institutions which have helped to mold and shape my educational outlooks and perceptions about learners’ abilities to achieve academic success,” he says. “I worked at the prestigious Benjamin Banneker Academy for Community Development under the leadership of Mr. Frank Spradely and Dr. Darryl Rock in the mighty District 13, which was then under the masterful guidance of Dr. Lester Young, Jr.”
As passionate about education as he is excited by the limitless possibilities, Muhammad details how his experience at Benjamin Banneker helped him form his own blueprint as a committed educator.
“There was the perfect mixture of young and elder educators. The principal greeted you as you entered the school, which created an environment of professionalism and encouraged you to want to do your best to educate the learners who sat before you. The community and parents were involved, and the learners yearned to be taught by master teachers like George Leonard, who is now the principal of Bedford Academy, and Imani Fisher, a brilliant mathematics teacher. I was a member of the history department, which was able to secure a 90 percent passing rate on the Regents exams in Global Studies and U.S. History.”
Before he began working with the New York City Department of Education, the native New Yorker admits, “I believed that city schools were doing a sub-par job when it came to educating our most precious resource, our children.”
However, once he began teaching in March 1998, Muhammad says he soon began to see that his had been a “tainted” view. “I began to understand that if an educator was placed under the right tutelage and if learners where placed into an educational environment that encouraged community development, solidarity and educational excellence that the possibilities would be endless.”
He credits District 13 as being instrumental “in my educational upward mobility as it relates to becoming a teacher, assistant principal and, ultimately, a principal.”
At Benjamin Banneker he taught a range of subjects, including U.S. history, global studies, economics and sociology. Adhering to the belief that one never stops learning, Muhammad says, “During a discussion I had with Ms. Pearl Davidson, an incredible assistant principal who helped to guide me, [she] informed me about an opportunity to receive a second master’s degree in administration and supervision. I jumped at the idea and met with Dr. Young for an interview regarding the program, since District 13 was paying for 2/3 of the program.”
Upon graduation, Muhammad interviewed for a position at JHS 258 in District 13. He became the assistant principal under the leadership of Principal Stan Walker.
Back in May 2005, Muhammad told this reporter, “We are a true urban school. It always had the reputation for being a tough place–kids who wouldn’t make it anywhere else wound it here; staff members who couldn’t make it in other places came here. It’s not an easy gig, but we’re making incredible strides.”
Looking back now, having since moved on to become principal of MS 143, Muhammad says of JHS 258, “during my tenure our first objective was to change the culture and climate of the school by creating and sustaining a higher standard of professionalism among staff and more importantly how the staff related to children. The battle for educational excellence at JHS 258 was a serious endeavor; the school was replete with teachers who internalized student failures and a lack of student educational upward mobility.”
He achieved success with his students, he says, because Principal Walker “allowed me to run the grade I supervised as if I was a separate entity and school, in the sense of giving me autonomy to run the 8th grade floor as if I were the principal, as long as I reported back to him on a continual basis and passed major decisions past him prior to implementation. This training, coupled with guidance from Ms. Viola Abbott and Dr. Young, allowed me to be innovative and bold in my everyday governance of my students. The process of going through the ranks of the DOE gave me the real-world experience that Fordham University could only theorize about.”
While his tenure at MS 143 was always slated to be temporary, as the school will be closed and revamped for the next school year, Muhammad is looking forward to the next challenge.
“The charge of educating the youth and teaching them the concept of cultural-bilingualism is one of the most profound and unique acts one can ever involve themselves in,” he tells the AmNews. “I have always yearned to be a part of a movement for fundamental change. I believe I have found my calling in life, and I appreciate the daily challenges it has to offer. I consider myself to be a social capitalist. The more I am a part of a movement for change, the more gratification I get. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”