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Friday, April 18, 2014

Leading through the tumult
(Page 2 of 3)
Jeffrey Bessen/Herald
Willis Perry is Lawrence Middle School’s new principal. Perry took over from the retired George Akst on Feb. 1.

Teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grade at P.S. 305 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Perry began a career that took him to Hempstead Elementary School and then to P.S. 114 in Belle Harbor, Queens, where he became an assistant principal in March 2004. In 2006 he helped develop a new school, the Scholars’ Academy, for talented and gifted sixth- to 12th-graders, which is now in Rockaway Park.

Brian O’Connell, the Scholars’ Academy principal who worked with Perry, said his former assistant principal “is a progressive educator who is extremely effective at building consensus.” O’Connell described Perry as a calm person with a determination to improve the education and the emotional welfare of all his students.

“Mr. Perry leads by example, modeling respect, cooperation and high standards,” O’Connell said. “[He] knows how to add value to an organization and school community by cultivating understanding and helping others find the greatness within themselves.”

In 2008, Perry was named principal of another scholars’ academy, the General D. Chappie James Middle School of Science in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. There he created partnerships with an arts program and established nearly 10 sports clubs, introducing the students to, among other things, tennis and tai chi. Last year the students’ scores on the state ELA and math exams rose 8 percent, Perry said.

“We recognized, with his experience in the city [and] on the Island, he’s demonstrated an ability to raise test scores and change the dynamic of the schools he has administrated in,” said Lawrence Superintendent Gary Schall, adding that Perry has already begun to connect with students and staff in the interest of keeping the middle school united during the implementation of the relocation plan.

After the Chappie school restructured, Perry became an assistant principal at the Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School in the Hempstead School District last September. Then he found the Lawrence job.

He said he is serious about improving the middle school’s academic performance by targeting students’ weaknesses, but wants to keep school fun by providing incentives such as snacks during after-school tutoring.

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