Big News: I'm Helping to Open a School

Updates: Harvest will hold an open house at the site of our school, 34 West 14th St on Monday, March 12, from 5-7pm.  Hope to meet you there!

Also, Inside Schools Recommends Harvest Collegiate

I am humbled and incredibly excited to share that I am going to be part of a team that opens Harvest Collegiate High School, a new NYC public school.  We will open our doors to about 100 freshmen next September, and grow over four years to serve students in grades 9-12. More information about the school, which is completely inline with my educational philosophies, is below.

I am very excited that the school will allow me to continue my relationship with the Institute for Student Achievement, which I have been a part of at both Bronx Lab and the Academy for Young Writers.  I am also extremely excited to be founding a school that will be part of the Coalition of Essential Skills, ten years after reading Ted Sizer’s work convinced me to become a teacher.

A mutual acquaintance introduced me to the school’s founding principal, Kate Burch, who has been a teacher and director of professional development at Humanities Prep in Manhattan.   We instantly hit it off.  I will be the school’s founding humanities teacher (pending the official hiring process in the Spring), as well as a partner in much of the planning of the school, its curriculum, and its day to day operations.

I am looking forward to sharing the joys and challenges of this journey in the coming years as I get the opportunity to implement many of the lessons I’ve learned from so many thus far in my career.

Mission & Vision

Mission Statement: Harvest Collegiate High School offers a rich and challenging intellectual education rooted in a growth cycle of compelling experience, inquiry and the pursuit of precision, culminating in the collaborative construction of meaning, action and reflection. We believe in cultivating students’ power to produce and reflect, rather than simply consume, as a fundamental way of being in the world. Our learning experiences are designed to stimulate immersion through disciplined habits of thought on topics of moral or aesthetic significance, while cultivating a powerful sense of competence, autonomy and belonging. We aspire to being, and to contributing creatively to, a “sane society,” one of peace, growth, even joy. We believe all young people flourish in conditions that challenge and support, so in our commitment to excellence through diversity and equity, we aim to serve the varied students of the city. We prepare students for success in college and for participatory leadership that promotes Harvest’s values of active responsibility for mankind and our earth.

Harvest Collegiate High School aims to achieve its mission through:

  • Focusing on the challenging and engaging work of inquiry in true preparation for college with the research, support and partnership of the Institute for Student Achievement
  • Authentic intellectual work and authentic assessment, tied to Habits of Mind and Heart that promote lifelong love of learning and critical thinking
  • A system of distributed counseling where every student receives a web of social and emotional support
  • The enlargement of life experience through empowering opportunities:
    • Experience and analysis of the seed-to-plate process on the farm, in the classroom and in partnership with community, business and governmental organizations
    • Every student learning a musical instrument
    • Experiential Half-Day a Week for Spiral Growth: Urban Ecology in 9th grade, Service Learning in 10th grade, College Exploration in 11th grade, Career Internship in 12th grade
    • A January Intensive for travel or immersion learning

Pedagogy and Philosophy

The farm experience will be used as a model and metaphor of an overall approach that conceives of learning as a cycle of growth:

Experience, observation and formation of Inquiry–> Critical Analysis (using the habits of mind, below) –> Action and Imagination –> Reflection

We want students to love what they’re learning and to use that love to push their mind to think rigorously, critically and imaginatively. To cultivate this as a way of being, it needs to become a habit. To make it a habit, it needs continual promotion and reinforcement; therefore every significant assignment students have will be assessed according to these habits of heart and mind:

Habit of Evidence: the ability to bring together relevant information to judge the credibility of sources, to find out for oneself.

  • How do I know what I know? Did I support my views and points with examples and evidence?

Habit of Connection: the ability to look for patterns and ways things fit together in order to utilize diverse material to form new solutions.

  • What else does this connect and apply to? Can I explain the context around this issue? How are we all connected, to each other and our environment?

Habit of Perspective: the ability to address questions from multiple viewpoints and to use a variety of ways to solve problems.

  • How do others see the issue? Can I put myself in someone else’s shoes? Am I empathizing with others? What are alternate ways of looking at the issue? What do these differences generate?

Habit of Effective Communication: the ability to acknowledge accepted standards in any area in order to be understood and to understand others.

  • Did I use my voice well? Did I present my work in ways that is clear to outside audiences? Does the presentation meet professional standards of the field? Did I pay attention to the details?  Did I actively seek to listen and understand others?

Habit of Curiosity: the ability to cultivate attention, the desire to continually seek new knowledge and awareness.

  • Did I consider the “why” and “how”? Did I seek further information about the situation and people around me? Did I express interest, or even passion? Was I willing to take a healthy risk, explore and try on a new experience? Did I persevere when the situation became challenging? Was I present to the possibilities of the situation?

Habit of Responsibility: the ability to demonstrate care through active participation and responsiveness.

  • Did I take responsibility for others and myself? Was I prepared, punctual and engaged? Did I make healthy choices? Did I put my all into it, and ask for help if I needed it? Did I reflect honestly? Can I learn from my missteps and consider what I would do differently next time?

Habit of Creative Contribution: the ability to give to, sustain, support or enhance lives and life systems.

  • What am I leaving behind? Is this sustainable? Did I add something beautiful, original, worthwhile?

Underlying all of our Habits is recognition of fundamental human dignity, expressed in the unwavering core values of Commitment to Peace, Commitment to Diversity and Commitment to Growth.

Structural Supports for Students

  • A performance-based “proficiency” assessment system that encourages students to learn until they master the skills and knowledge that will truly prepare them for success in college and beyond
  • An Advisory system that ensures that every student is well known as an individual by staff, and has an individual plan for success
  • An extended school day that gives the opportunity for students to master rigorous academics as well as explore a rich array of elective and extracurricular opportunities, which include music instruction and a professional theater company in residence.
  • Small sizes of classes and general student population, which will allow for a collaborative and personal learning environment
  • Dedicated time to read each day so that reading, the single greatest leverage point of academia, becomes a habit
  • Two-year academic institutes that allow a degree of student choice and greater ownership over a student’s own education as she develops.  Each institute culminates with the student publicly presenting their achievements.
  • An immersive overnight experience to initiate the school year, and a focused “January Term” project that lets students further develop skills of interest

Structural Support for Teachers

  • Continual inquiry and development of our teaching practice collectively, in groups, and through support for individual goals
  • A PD day every six weeks to review student achievement data and plan accordingly
  • A digital portfolio system, Richer Picture, that lets teachers consider student work individually, by groups and across time
  • Dedicated planning time over the summer, as well as inquiry Institutes from ISA
  • Extra pay for extended hours from committed foundation support


Institute of Student Achievement; Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture;  Improbable Theater; Slow Foods USA; FoodFight; Brooklyn College of Education; Third Street Settlement for Music Education; Coalition of Essential Schools; New York Standard Performance Consortium (pilot school); Mercy Corps: Action Center to End World Hunger.

We welcome and anticipate further collaborations with universities, businesses, and community-based organizations for the spiral growth experience of city, service, college and professional internships.

Concluding Thought

Present challenges in our environment and society, are, indeed, overwhelming.  How will they come to care enough to tackle them? How will they have the skills to address them? By engaging students in an exploration of the food chain, with which they are intimately involved and on which they are dependent to live, students will learn to question, critically analyze, imagine sustainable alternatives, and learn to act accordingly.

Working with students from low-income communities, who may not feel they have control over their circumstances, The Harvest School will teach that work and dedication–to a project and to one’s development–to education, can change lives: their own, and those who live around them. In the garden, students will directly experience their power to bring things into being. As Wendell, a toughened janitor in Seedfolks, Paul Fleischman’s account of a multiethnic community garden in working-class Cleveland, reflects:

There’s plenty about my life I can’t change. Can’t bring the dead back to life on this earth. Can’t make the world loving and kind. Can’t change myself into a millionaire. But a patch of ground on this trashy lot—I can change that. Can change it big. Better to put my time into that than moaning about the other all day. That little grammar-school girl showed me that. (1997, p. 12)


24 thoughts on “Big News: I'm Helping to Open a School

  1. That’s awesome news for your future colleagues and students! Being familiar with ISA and CES, I’m totally convinced it’ll be a great success (and actually a tad envious). Good luck!


  2. Congratulations again, Steve, and I wish you, Kate and the founding staff of Harvest Collegiate all the very best as you embark on this incredible journey!


  3. Is this a charter school or a traditional district public school? I can’t seem to find any information online, but I would love to learn more.


  4. You’re hired just like that? No 18D? Who says you’re the most qualified for the position? What’s in store for students when their teacher only cares about self promotion? Are the kids at young writers too black for you? Scared of the commute to ENY?


    1. As noted in the original post, I am currently helping to plan the school, and will only be an official teacher pending the official hiring process – the 18D – in the Spring.

      I joined Young Writers just this past year for many reasons, highly among them was its location. After commuting for six years to Gun Hill Rd in the Bronx, I knew that I cannot be the teacher I want to be for students when two hours of my day is spent commuting which, without a car, would be the case again going to East New York.


      1. If students can travel over 2hrs to get an education in a better school district then why not make that same sacrifice? All of these new schools are not fixing the education problem.


      2. Diane –

        First, students shouldn’t have to travel 2 hours to get a better education. Second, I agree, new schools are not fixing the education problem. Current reform efforts are only changing the package of education (new schools, small schools, new tests) but are not addressing what actually matters: what students do under the guidance of teachers in their day-to-day classrooms. Harvest Collegiate is a school started by excelent teachers who will ensure that students have great day-to-day experiences.

        But to your point about me not making the sacrifice: I did make the sacrifice for a number of years. I then realized it was not fair to my students, because I had less time to devote to them, nor my family, to continue spending that much time commuting. It took a toll on my physical and emotional health (here’s on article with more information on the problem:

        We need to move beyond the image of “teacher as martyr” for her or his students. It’s not sustainable, and is a large reason there is so much turnover (over 50% within 6 years in NYC). Teachers need to be able to live healthy professional lives that allow them to not only be excellent teachers, but also excellent spouses and parents.


  5. Will this school be worth the destruction of over one hundred kids futures? Personally, i feel taking out an improving school to put in a new school is outrageous. Anyone can come up with a plan that sounds good but how many can execute it. What will happen while Harvest & Legacy are sharing the building?


    1. Tony – I agree with nearly everything you wrote. The DOE’s policy of closing schools to open new ones is not working, and is not sustainable.

      You are also completely right that it’s easy to write a good plan, but much more difficult to execute it. My first school in NY, the Bronx Lab School, was one of 6 schools that replaced the closed Evander Childs High School in the Bronx. There was a great plan there, and it was implemented well for about 5 years, but since the school has struggled. Having never been at Evander, I can’t compare the two schools, just as I’ll never be able to compare Harvest and Legacy.

      Personally, it was a hard ethical decision for me to decide to be part of opening a new school. I recognize that this makes me complicit, to some degree, in the DOE’s policy of closing schools in general, and in the closing of Legacy specifically. At the same time, Harvest will be opening, and will have students that are just as important as the ones currently at Legacy, and I want to help make sure they get the education they want and deserve. I hope that I can bring many of the lessons I learned from Bronx Lab’s success and struggles to Harvest to make sure that the plan is well executed.

      To your final question, about what will happen when Harvest & Legacy share the building, I can assure you that all the adults will work together to make sure that all the students we all serve have the best possible environment for the entirety of their high school experiences. It is my hope that we’lll be able to establish a community between all the students there, and I will suggest creating a building committee made up of students and staff from both schools that will resolve any issues that arise. Perhaps you and I can work on this together?

      The one point you make I take some issue with is that 100 students’ futures will be destroyed. I refuse to believe that you will let your future be destroyed, and I think it will be possible for everyone for everyone sharing that space to work together to assure it does not happen.


      1. Hi Mr. Lazar,
        First off the name tony was an “auto-fill” error, my name is Justin Watson. I am a student at Legacy School for Integrated Studies. I apologize for the late response, I agree with your point that you cannot accurately compare schools they are all different; The Department of Education used that tactic to shut us down. Harvest and Legacy are not comparable, but if you look at Legacy‘s history and its potential you would see why shutting legacy down or supporting its shut-down is a mistake.
        I totally understand that your decision to help with Harvest was a difficult one. It should’ve been to accept and justify polices created by people who don’t have students’ best interest at heart, had to be hard. Mayor Bloomberg and his subordinates are for putting in new schools instead of doing the work to fix the schools that are already open.
        Harvest sounds like it would be a good school elsewhere, but I don’t think it would be at any students’ best interest to support the closing of Legacy. Legacy has a large concentrated number of high needs students, that are being targeted by things not in their control. I am not saying don’t open Harvest I am saying don’t close Legacy for it is getting better. Why pull the plug on a patient when the cure just takes some time.
        To address “sharing the building”, the building is not huge so eventually resources will be cut for some students and leave most likely legacy students at a disadvantage. That has happened in many phase-outs and co- locations, it is pretty common. If our campaign fails by September I would gladly be a part of the building committee.
        Lastly, to address your concern of my comment about the destruction of student’s futures, frankly it will happen. This campaign has never been about me personally, its about Black and Latino students being left behind and abandoned. It’s about teachers having to leave places where they are comfortable. The phase-out most likely won’t hurt my future but what about the tens of thousands of students that it has effected already through the years? What about the students that will be hurt by future phase-outs? The dropout rate of a phase-out school increases, to me that is counterproductive. I feel that someone who creates schools must care deeply about students and shouldn’t co-sign a policy that makes kids drop out at an accelerated rate. Research has shown this, the UYC report and I believe the DOE did report as well.

        Thank you for your time,
        Signed an ignored student,
        Justin Watson
        President of The Save Legacy Coalition


  6. Why can’t I find any information about this school online. A google search for Harvest Collegiate returns almost nothing except this blog post.


    1. The school was only legally approved at the PEP a few weeks back, so not sure what the turnaround is from there on official DOE materials coming out. We’ll have a website up this week. If you want to reach out by email and let me know who you are and what kind of info you’re looking for, I might be able to help you get that info. My email is outsidethecave [at] gmail [dot] com.


  7. “working with students from low-income communities”…is that your target cohort? Does that mean that it might not be a good fit for a student that does not fall into that niche?


  8. One of our core values is Commitment to Diversity so we hope to enroll students of all backgrounds–socioeconomic, field of interest, nationality, ethnicity, ways of thinking, etc. We are also committed to equity, and helping every child reach their full potential, and so have designed Harvest Collegiate to provide enrichments that will serve students who have traditionally been underserved in the system as it exists, which unfortunately have been students from low-income families. The enrichment we’re offering–music, theater, after school programs, January Intensive, spiral growth experience, Advisory, celebratory morning meeting–would definitely benefit students from all backgrounds.
    –Kate Burch, Harvest Collegiate Leader


    1. thanks for the response…and it was great to meet with you today at the high school fair. Can you describe the january intensive? Have all the teachers been hired? Is it possible to come tour the school?


      1. Happy to help with more answers:
        1) The January intensive will be an opportunity for students to take one in-depth course for three weeks, that will emphasize learning outside the classroom and topics that students may not have the opportunity to investigate in depth. For example, students might research a current political issue, and then travel to Washington to lobby Congressmen. This will also be a time for remediation for students who fall behind.
        2) No teachers (myself included) can be officially hired until a contractual process called the “18D” occurs. There is strong interest from excellent teachers for all positions, but no hiring will happen until the positions are officially posted in April to ensure all candidates can apply.
        3) Unfortunately, we do not have access to the space yet.


  9. Kate Burch’s plan for this school and partnerships with 4th Street Music School all sound enticing. The biggest concern I have is about the environment. Is it true that all classrooms have no windows. From what I saw online of the Legacy High School pictures were photos of beige walls and flourescent lighting. Lighting and color are an important aspect of the learning environment for our children. Can anyone tell me more about the space inside the school. Any other info would be appreciated… Thank you!


    1. It’s an important point–I agree the environment is important–and fortunately, mostly a false alarm. There are large, beautiful windows all along 13th and 14th street. It’s true that some north and south facing rooms are windowless, but 5 out of 8 classrooms we will occupy next year actually have terrific windows.

      The school is on the fourth and fifth floors of a leased commercial space and is kept immaculately clean; it shines. The school has a library/media center with new PCs and Macs, a dance studio, fitness room (though not a full gym for a basketball court), cafeteria, 4 science labs, plenty of hallway lockers and overall struck me as a positive space to learn.
      –Kate Burch, proposed Principal of Harvest Collegiate


      1. Thank you for your reply about the space Ms. Burch. It is great to hear that there are windows. The other great option is there is nothing like paint to brighten the walls of a classroom. And today, they have more natural fluorescent lighting and or shades to make spaces more comfortable.


  10. Harvest will hold an open house at the site of our school, 34 West 14th St on Monday, March 12, from 5-7pm. Hope to meet you there!


  11. Stephen,

    Congratulations on this amazing opportunity. The climate and intent of the school sound amazing, engaging and challenging – in other words, the perfect environment in which to learn and grow. “We believe in cultivating students’ power to produce and reflect, rather than simply consume, as a fundamental way of being in the world.” Especially love this part as it ought to be one of the core principles relative to how students learn today. The reflection piece is key.

    Very happy for you and excited to follow you on the journey.



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