better together

Two co-directors, no principal: A day in the life of shared leadership

PHOTO: Annie Ma
Devon Eisenberg, left, looks over graduation ceremony plans with co-director LeMarie Laureano at the Young Women's Leadership School in the Bronx.

Devon Eisenberg and LeMarie Laureano first met as founding teachers at a middle school in the Bronx. The two women built a strong friendship in and out of the school, where they co-taught a math class together. In 2012, they took on an even bigger team effort — founding and running their own school: the Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx.

Rather than assign themselves traditional roles like principal and assistant principal, they call themselves co-directors and divide responsibilities equally. Laureano oversees the humanities, while Eisenberg works more closely with science, technology and math. They share an office, desks facing each other, and even use a joint email account.

Other city schools are also experimenting with non-traditional leadership models, despite some reports of resistance from the city. For their part, Eisenberg and Laureano say they’ve been inspired by what collaboration brings to their school.

Laureano and Eisenberg say they make all major decisions together. Letters to parents are signed by the both of them, and they attend district meetings together.

“The number one thing is that they have an equal voice in everything, a united front,” English teacher Julissa DiLone says. “It’s not like you can go to mom when dad says no.”


9 a.m. — Setting up the ceremony

As the school year winds down, Eisenberg and Laureano are ironing out the details of eighth-grade graduation. The school currently serves sixth- to ninth-graders and will add a new grade every year until it goes all the way through 12th grade. The majority of eighth-graders will continue on to ninth grade here, but a handful are leaving the school.

At the morning meeting, the co-directors review the logistics of the ceremony at the conference table in their office. Girls will pick up their gowns, yearbooks and tickets this afternoon in the gym. As Eisenberg and Laureano talk over the details, teachers wander in and out on their breaks — the co-directors’ office also serves as teachers lounge.


10:12 a.m. — Graduation rehearsal

Eisenberg heads into the auditorium downstairs to oversee the rehearsal. As she watches, the eighth-grade girls file across the stage and practice shaking hands with teachers.

Eisenberg and Laureano try to make themselves accessible to students throughout each day.

“Maybe it’s because there’s two of them, but they seem much more personable,” says Josephine Lewis, a ninth-grader who was in the first class at the school. “But we also always see both of them around, so it’s not just the fact that there’s two.”


10:25 a.m. — Wrapping up the year

Laureano finishes the end-of-year teacher reviews in the shared office. While most were completed earlier in the month, the last teacher was delayed until today because his wife just had twins. In the hallways, pictures of the twins and congratulatory messages hang on the walls.


11:52 a.m. — Checking in

Eisenberg stops for a quick meeting with another teacher on staff. A majority of classes are led by co-teacher teams who work together, as Laureano and Eisenberg once did, to develop curriculum and teach lessons. Students, parents and teachers say the school’s emphasis on collaboration trickles down to the students — a few just proposed a new club that would have co-presidents.


12:30 p.m. — Yearbooks and memories

Eighth-graders end the day in the gym, where they pick up yearbooks and graduation gowns, but no caps. Since moving up from eighth grade just involves changing classrooms for most girls, Eisenberg says the school sticks to a smaller ceremony.

“It’s a nice chance for them to get pictures and see the girls who are leaving, but we try not to make a big deal of it,” Eisenberg says. “We tell them, ‘When you graduate high school, when you graduate from college, then we’ll have a big celebration.’”


12:41 p.m. — End of a day, end of a year

Laureano addresses the eighth-graders gathered in the gym. These girls will be the school’s second class of ninth-graders as it grows to fill out grades 6-12.

Community Associate Charisse Lewis, whose daughter is a ninth-grader at the school, says having two principals “shows young girls that two women can be bosses with a common goal. It shows that two women can lead without one being less than another.”

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.


Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.


words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.