As a teacher and then a principal, Arlynn Brody was devoted to the kids in her school. They faced all sorts of obstacles to learning which she helped them overcome. She had such a positive effect on their lives that some of them still keep in touch with her. “They still write to me. They even celebrate my birthday,” she says, laughing with a note of pride.
Arlynn (Ollie to her husband, Van, friends and neighbors and Brody to her colleagues) was born in Brooklyn but raised in Florida. She graduated from the University of Florida. “As a college student, I had worked for Eastern Airlines and I expected to continue working there as a manager after I graduated but, at that time, they weren’t hiring women as managers,” Arlynn explained,” so I decided to try my hand at teaching. My first job was as a classroom teacher at a school near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The success of my students prompted the then Chancellor to ask me to begin the first Title I Math Lab in the city. Afterwards I was a Professional Development staffer, traveling throughout the city. I received a degree in Administration and then worked in the Bedford Stuyvesant community for 25 years as an Assistant Principal until 1996 when I became the principal of PS 87 in Queens.”
“At that time, the school was one of a group of failing schools that was going to be taken over by the state. Less than 20 percent of the students read above grade level. But seven years later, PS 87 was one of the top 10 schools in the city,” she said.
How did she turn school around?
“When I joined the school, 40 percent of the students were considered to be learning disabled. Some 20 percent were in Special Education programs. But it turned out that kids were often misdiagnosed. Many needed reading glasses. Some hadn’t been able to see the chalkboard since they started school. Some had hearing disorders. Some lacked the proper language and communication skills, which is not surprising when you realize that they often didn’t have anyone to talk to at home about what they were doing in school,” Arlynn explained.
This was a time when computers were beginning to be used in the classroom to help kids like this learn. “There were many different programs and levels, each designed to diagnose and remedy specific deficiencies,” Arlynn continued. “The results were amazing. A computer can work with each kid individually and make them repeat things over and over again until they get it right but a teacher has a limited time to help each one. And as the kids began to overcome their problems
and see progress, they were excited. They wanted to learn.”
”For me these were seven years of magical living... learning how the brain works, and how easily some of the problems could be corrected with the right tools. It became an all-encompassing passion.”
Arlynn successes didn’t go unnoticed. In 2003, when she was about to retire, the Queens Chronicle published an article which said that the Mayor of New York City liked to have his photo taken with her because the changes she had introduced as principal of PS 87 had made the school a model for the rest of the city.
Arlynn says she misses the involvement, the problem solving and the sense of being needed that she experienced being the principal of PS 87. But she’s lucky, she says, to have opportunities that compensate. She has led some very memorable GNPS groups. In one book group, members read “The Giver”, a story about a dystopian society where each person is assigned a set function in life. “It’s a book that leads to so many different kinds of discussions, a book that you’ll come back to at different periods of your life and see things differently,” she said. And now she uses her experience as an educator to participate in peer learning with retired professionals through a CUNY program known as LP2 (Learning Program squared).....another way of passing on the skills and using the intellectual energy that has inspired her adult life.
Arlynn has been a Park Sloper since 1973. She is married to a retired Architect, Van and has two grown children: Shawn Brody-Katsanos (living in Windsor Terrace), and Eric Brody (living in Greenpoint), and four grandchildren.