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Briarcliff Principal Cherishes School Community

BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. -- Jim Kaishian is proud to be a principal in Briarcliff, where Back to School nights always draw a full house of students' parents.

"I think that speaks volumes about what this school district is," the principal of Briarcliff High School said. "I love that fact that Briarcliff is a small community where people prize a good education."

Kaishian began his career in education 22 years ago teaching English and special education to eighth graders in a tough area of the Bronx.

Kaishian's father was a teacher in New Canaan, Conn., and he had advised his son not to go into teaching. But after working a while in finance at Merrill Lynch, Kaishian decided his true passion was education, and he went against the advice of his father.

Only one or two parents used to show up to parents' nights in the Bronx, Kaishian said, and teaching was so tough that he almost dropped out after the first year.

But he decided to persist a while longer, and eventually the teaching got easier. After his first year in the Bronx, Kaishian transferred to Cardozo High School in Queens where he taught for five years. He then became a teacher in Dobbs Ferry for students who were in danger of not graduating.

After that, Kaishian decided to apply to be an administrator in Briarcliff. He became principal of Briarcliff Middle School for five years, and then transferred to Briarcliff High School where he has been principal for six years.

"I thought I could have an impact on a more global level as an administrator," he said. "I thought I could change policies that were not at the best interest for kids."

One of Kaishian's most controversial changes after he became principal of Briarcliff High School was mandating a lunch period.

"Many students took nine classes and didn't have time to eat," Kaishian said.

The change was met with some opposition, but it worked out in the end, he said.

Another controversial change that is going into effect in September 2011 is the reduction in class periods from nine to eight.

A group of about 150 students were so opposed to this change that that staged a protest in March, carrying signs outside the school on a rainy day.

The students were worried that with eight periods, they wouldn't have the opportunity during the day to go to a learning lab or get extra help, Kaishian explained. The principal compromised with the students, creating a "clear period" during which students could eat or get extra help, in addition to the eight periods.

"I was very impressed by how the students conducted themselves," Kaishian said. "I thought it was a great example of democracy."

With eight periods, teachers can be better deployed to focus on priority areas in the core academic areas which should be retained at small class sizes, Kaishian said.

When not in high school, Kaishian enjoys gardening and working in construction around his house in Yorktown. He and his wife have six children. Two are in college, two are in high school, one is in eighth grade, and the youngest child who is adopted is in first grade.

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