Meet VSN’s New Principal: Dr. Robin Small
By Craig Papajohn-Shaw
Volume 2 Issue 1
October 8, 2021
Original photography by Christy Mansfield
FRANKLIN SQUARE - Dr. Robin Small has been a prominent part of the Valley Stream North community since her appointment as a Special Education Teacher over a decade ago. Earning her Doctorate in Education (Executive Leadership) in 2021, Dr. Small enters her 15th year in our school as Interim Principal. The recent administrative opening presented an opportunity for Dr. Small to continue to advance her leadership role in the school and the community. For the last three years, Small was North’s Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services and served as Special Education Department Chairperson for the five years prior.
Overseeing approximately 1400 students, Dr. Small is tasked with leading a school with a recent history of administrative turnover, with five principals in eight years, and entering its third academic year facing COVID restrictions. Nevertheless, her background at North is an advantage. “[As a principal] you have to know your audience and who the students are,” she says. “I think me being here for 14 years, I already know where these students come from in a sense; I know the community because I live in the community.”
Dr. Small expressed her desire to practice the Culturally Responsive Teaching strategy. By definition, this is a “research-based approach to teaching. It connects students’ cultures, languages, and life experiences with what they learn in school.” She is encouraging and guiding the use of Culturally Responsive Teaching with the faculty. “[It allows teachers]to get to know their students [and] engage them (students) in what they like,” she said, and added “I want to give some control to students of what they’re learning about.” With all students being back in person this year, she is looking forward to talking directly to students to find out what they want to get out of this year.
Acknowledging there are opportunities to improve our school, she says with that, the dynamic within the building could benefit from being adjusted. When asked about her leadership technique, she shared, “I’m strict, but approachable. I know there are rules, and everything falls under me, and I want to make sure we set up students accordingly for the future because if we don’t have structure, how does that set someone up to go into the world?” With this emphasis on structure in her administrative style, discipline has become a greater priority. As a practice, Dr. Small refers to North students as “scholars.” The word scholar for her holds a higher, stronger level of responsibility and pride. “Students need to have more pride in who they are and carry themselves as such and that’s why scholars is a much more fitting word. I think highly of everyone, so I used that term so they can also think highly of themselves, build confidence and feel they can do anything they want in life,” she explained.
Our interim principal is a big believer in educating the whole student, and not solely in academic studies. She discussed the idea of “soft skills” within students. “[We tend to lose] certain behaviors as human beings because of the technological world we live in.” Rules such as the dress code, I.D cards being worn around a student’s neck, proper masking, and prohibiting the use of AirPods®/headphones in the hallways will be implemented in an effort to prepare students for their future.
As she looks ahead to this year’s graduating class, she looks forward to working closely with the Grade Council and Senior High Student Council. "[I’m determined] to make this senior [year] as exciting and as memorable as possible, considering we are still wearing masks,” she emphasizes. “I am open to hearing what students want for themselves and for their senior class. I do not want them to think that they are ‘covid seniors.’” With desperation among students and staff to return to normalcy, Dr. Small’s administration will look to work closely with staff and students.
“I’d like to think I can ride out my career being a principal. A principal holds so much responsibility, and it’s not for everyone. As an educator, we touch our students who go out, and they can get anywhere in the world, and that’s a heavy responsibility that I do not take lightly.”