Tottenville High School

At Tottenville High School there is a spirit of authentic learning. Principal John Tuminaro fosters authenticity in students, teachers and staff by encouraging individuality and shared innovation.


The ten “Beat the Odds” schools were selected after an extensive review of a Parthenon Group study and data from the New York City Department of Education. These schools’ innovative programs and outstanding leadership resulted in a higher than average graduation rate for students who typically either dropped out or did not graduate on time.

Background Study


 Encouraging Authentic Teaching


Scene Photo

Tottenville High School teachers focus on collaborative and reflective teaching.

At Tottenville High School, the third largest physical plant and one of the most populous schools in New York City, leaders promote the idea that “big” does not mean “mass produced.” Teachers can and must capitalize on their individuality and share innovation with their colleagues. The word “authentic” may be one of the most overused and abused words in educators’ vocabularies. But at Tottenville High, it is the spirit of the word that counts. Principal John Tuminaro fosters authenticity by encouraging collaboration in teaching—experienced teachers share ideas and their expertise with neophytes, and vice versa. The point is to learn from one another as they shape their own styles of teaching. This process of professional development is about creating self awareness. Teachers’ enthusiasm about their jobs invariably is a reflection on best practices and how they view their role in the school. At Tottenville, school leaders create a school culture that encourages teachers to peel back the layers of the onion to find their true core and how it relates to student potential.


 Targeting Students


Scene Photo

The Extended Day program provides a second chance for students needing additional credits to graduate.

To help at-risk students, Principal Tuminaro examines student data and resources to determine how to improve performance of students who are over age and under credited. In some instances these students also exhibit behavioral and attitudinal problems. If they show potential and are willing to work they are enrolled in the Extended Day Program which begins at 2:45 p.m. when regular classes end. The program is integrated into the schedule of Tottenville as an additional period of instruction. By keeping students in familiar surroundings with teachers who know them, educators believe students have their best opportunity to succeed and to be self-directed learners.

Extended Day is neither a short cut to graduation nor an after-school detention program. Tottenville staff bill the program as a privilege—a legitimate chance to prove what you can do. To be admitted and stay in the program students have to be serious about their studies and willing to work. Almost inevitably, those who grab hold of the opportunity learn to become self-aware and think of themselves as successful. For many, this second chance is greatly appreciated and is a life-changing experience.


 Competing for Resources


Scene Photo

Students’ success may spell decreased funding for future intervention programs.

Just because Tottenville is one of the largest comprehensive high schools in the system does not mean all of the school’s programs are fully funded. Extended Day works in no small measure because of scrappy, creative leadership. With increasingly limited resources Principal Tuminaro knows that leadership is about pinpointing the needs of the program to achieve efficiency and accomplish its goal. The program has its own teachers, an administrator, guidance counselor, a family paraprofessional, and its own dean to handle discipline. Mr. Tuminaro works the formal channels for program support, but he must cultivate a network of community organizations if he hopes to keep Extended Day fully functional. Interestingly, the program’s success may well lead to a loss of funding in other areas. Mr. Tuminaro accepts that true leadership seeds programs that foster excellence beyond the initial resources and devotion of time and energy.


 Measuring Success


Scene Photo

Extended Day program students are on track for graduation.

Tottenville’s staff can tell the story of the Extended Day Program’s success with attendance and program completion data. At a minimum, they realize that program value must be measured in terms of the number of students who graduate. But the principal and his assistants insist that the full story will not be known until teachers and students weigh in on the shared value of the program. Teachers and students know better than anyone what works, what seems worthwhile. Perhaps the best metric of all is authenticity in students who come to believe they can exert the power necessary to shape their own lives. If the program encourages students to reinvent themselves through introspection, cooperation, and hard work, it will surely have been worth the time, effort, and financial investment. Overall, program success means providing a school structure so that everyone – teachers, staff and students – feels they are autonomous agents in determining their own self awareness.