“Nothing feels small. This is a big school,” said New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks last Thursday.

He was responding to a question about the tendency for people to visit their elementary, middle or high schools and remember them to be bigger than they are.
Banks took a trip down memory lane last week when he visited his alma mater Hillcrest High School in Jamaica Hills, Queens. Even though it’s been decades for Banks, the feeling of being back filled him with nostalgia.

“For me because it feels and looks almost exactly the same way. But I mean…it was a good place to be. And the spirit of it…and I’m pretty good. I have a pretty good sense and I was a principal for 11 years.”

Banks said that the school’s current condition of clean hallways, classes fully attended, and school bulletins addressing the hot button issues of the day is a result of the precedent set by its principal.

“It’s culture. And it doesn’t—culture doesn’t just happen. Culture is something that you have to work out. Over the years, I would always check on how things were at Hillcrest, even though I had not visited.”

Praising current Hillcrest Principal Scott Milczewski, Banks said that you can tell how well a place is run the minute you step inside a school. “Whenever I walk into a building, I walk into the building as a principal,” said Banks, who also taught for a decade. “I wear my principal’s hat and I see little things that principals see. And this is a well-run place.”

Banks did take time, however, to look at things through a former student’s lens as well when reminded of a rule that hasn’t changed.

Banks visited multiple classrooms, checked out the school auditorium, hit the gym (“I don’t know if you say, but I got a couple of shots,” said Banks).

“I remember a few times we tried to sneak on the elevator, they were like ‘You can’t be on the elevator,’” said Banks while laughing. “You got it. We’re not going on the elevator. We’ll take the stairs.”

Someone then handed Banks a copy of the 1980 yearbook. Banks immediately opened it to a page that showed a pic of his high school self. To him, that’s what this trip was all about.

“It just feels like coming home. It really does,” said Banks. “I don’t know what I was thinking it would feel like, but I think I anticipated that it’d feel different. Just because I’m different. I’m 60 years old now. But it’s almost like taking me back in time.”

“It shaped how I move and how I see myself in the world,” Banks said.

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