Flourishing Bilingual/Dual Language Education and Community Partnerships
For over twenty years Alicja Winnicki offered her expertise to NYC Community School District 14 as an educator, the principal for P.S. 34, and the NYC Community School District 14 Superintendent. In May she received the Dr. Antonia Pantoja Bilingual Education Advocacy Award from the New York State Association for Bilingual Education. This award recognizes the extensive work and contributions of individuals who advocate for bilingual education and the educational rights of English language/bilingual learners in New York State. Alicja Winnicki retired from her role as superintendent on July 15, 2021. Greenline asked her to share highlights of her experiences in District 14 and what may lie ahead.
What is your greatest accomplishment as superintendent?
When I became the superintendent of District 14 in September 2012, I knew that principals, teachers, families, and our local organizations and politicians felt strongly committed to all students and to the community and wanted to continue the path of improving teaching and learning with providing opportunities and access to a variety of academic and enrichment programs. After nine years of leading the district, I am proud of many accomplishments we achieved together as this was the work we partnered for, supported each other in, and collaborated on so all our students could succeed. We are the second highest performing district in Brooklyn North. Therefore, ensuring that each District 14 school is a community school, with vibrant after-school programs for students and many wrap-around services for families, including mental health counseling, a variety of workshops, dental and medical clinics, or food pantries provided by our CBOs is one of the highlights and I am very pleased that I was able to grow and secure those partnerships that proven very critical during the pandemic.
I consider the flourishing and impactful bilingual and dual language programs as one of my greatest accomplishments. Early on I led with the vision for diversity, inclusion, and access to all programs for all our students. There are 20 bilingual and dual language programs in our district schools that diverse families can choose from. District 14 for many years was the home for immigrants from many countries and it was important for me to provide equally rigorous programs for the students who are English Language Learners, while offering access to those students who would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn another language. The last school year, over 1,600 diverse students had access to learning in programs with multiple languages.
I would be remiss if I have not mentioned the success of improving our most vulnerable and marginalized schools that are now thriving and offer incredible opportunities for students and families. Together, we improved M.S. 50, I.S. 71, and others, by expanding programming, inclusive of the federal magnet programs, so that the vast majority of our D14 schools are recognized as schools in good standing.
What are your hopes for District 14’s future?
I hope that District 14 continues thriving as the vibrant, diverse community where the voice and collaborative share of practices among all stakeholders are even stronger to ensure the continuity of academic excellence and growth providing all students with college and career readiness. Likewise, I hope for the expansion and embracing equity, diversity and inclusion with the District 14 Pathways, aligned to the Culturally Responsive and Sustainable Education Framework that we engaged in with all principals, teachers, students and families last Spring while building on the work of equity and CRSE we embarked on and then pursued for several years as a district. I also hope that the student voice and agency, through student councils and advisories continue to be the pillars of all changes and adjustments that the district and the schools implement with curricula, school culture, and inclusion. It is my hope that our signature and growing student debate program continues by engaging all elementary schools and by expanding access to debates in many languages. I am very excited for the District 14 families that, after a year of delay caused by the pandemic, 3K programs we all desired for the community will become available in our schools and CBOs.
What are your plans for retirement?
After 27 years of service to the District 14 community as a teacher and leader, I am going to reflect on them and then engage in opportunities to share some of my professional experience as I have already done by, for example, presenting at conferences or writing about education. First and foremost though, I am planning to spend some quality time with my family and friends, find time again to fall in love with reading, including children’s and young adult literature, attend to some of my passion projects, garden and travel a little, and just allow myself to relax.