Interview with Principal Yu
It’s never easy to start a new job so we can’t even imagine what a challenge it must be to start a new job as the principal of one of America’s best high schools in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Earlier this school year, we sat down with Stuyvesant’s new principal, Seung Yu, to discuss his first few months at Stuyvesant, his prior roles and background, and what he hopes to accomplish during his principalship.
Can you tell us about your previous roles before becoming principal of Stuyvesant?
Before Stuyvesant, I led the office of Postsecondary Readiness at the Department of Education (DOE). It was our role to support New York City high schools and help prepare young people for post-secondary careers. An example of our city-wide initiative included universal access to computer science and technical education. I was Senior Executive Director of that office for three years and our challenges often revolved around how do we make policies and provide guidance in such a way that all NYC schools can translate it into their respective school environment.
Prior to that role, I was the founding principal of the Academy for Software Engineering, a public high school in Manhattan, and we were the recipient of these big policies from the DOE. To later work at the central office and see how these decisions were made while also understanding the operational elements that are specific to each school–this ability to see multiple sides has been helpful for Stuyvesant which is also a complex network of many stakeholders.
What spurred you to take on the principal role at Stuyvesant?
I actually had a connection to Stuyvesant even at my prior principalship. The high school I was a founding principal of–the Academy for Software Engineering–was very much based on a lot of ideas of Michael Zamansky ’84, a former Stuyvesant teacher (and parent) who spent decades developing the computer science program at Stuyvesant. So now, joining Stuyvesant as its new principal, it feels like I have come full circle.
After I left my first school, I wasn’t sure I would go back to principalship because of the rigorous demands of the job and the frequent lack of work life balance. But Stuyvesant was too appealing to pass up. I really wanted the opportunity to work with Stuyvesant’s high performing students and see what value I could add. I also feel very connected with Stuyvesant’s students because their experiences were very similar to how I grew up.
What have your first few months at Stuyvesant been like? Any big challenges or surprises?
My first day was August 4. It was very hectic at first. I was just trying to learn as much as I can in the month before school started. The biggest challenge in the beginning was meeting everyone–staff, students, and parents–and having to do it remotely. But everyone has been very welcoming. And I try to remember that even though there’s a lot to do, there are many smart, capable people that will be doing those tasks with me because of the institutions that are already in place.
There are some pleasant surprises that are not really unexpected. There’s a great love of place and community here and you can definitely feel it and see it within these halls. Everyone I’ve talked to spoke about the impact this community has had on them and so many want to stay connected to the school even long after they graduate. There’s this sense that Stuyvesant allows people to be a part of something bigger than themselves and alumni are such an important part of that equation.
I’ve also been really impressed by the students–not just their academic aptitude so much as their curiosity and desire to learn. I am so grateful to be a part of this phenomenal, comprehensive academic environment and hopefully, I will further contribute to it.
Stuyvesant allows people to be a part of something bigger than themselves and alumni are such an important part of that equation.
What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure at Stuyvesant?
This community holds the principal in very high esteem. I feel honored to be in a position where I can help shape this school. I want to continue to bring the community together and help it evolve. Working at Stuyvesant is a real opportunity to elevate the work that’s happening here, whether it’s STEM, humanities, art, or extracurricular activities.
I want to make sure we remain strong in the areas we’ve always excelled in, but one of the other areas I really want to develop is helping young people succeed in ways that are not strictly academic. I think the pandemic has really made the world re-examine work in a new way and I want to make sure our students have what they need to be self-sufficient professionals in the future.
As important as academics are, I want young people to love learning whether it’s from a textbook or from another person who could be their teacher or their peer. Grades are important but the qualities of being curious and being able to think independently–those are just as important if not more so. I want young people to have original ideas and to make choices. To do that, you have to provide them with information which they then synthesize to make decisions. Our job as educators is to help them make better decisions or learn from their poor ones.
I want young people to love learning whether it’s from a textbook or from another person... I want young people to have original ideas and to make choices... Our job as educators is to help them make better decisions or learn from their poor ones.
Any other words you wish to impart to our alumni?
I am so appreciative of the Alumni Association, which is a resource that most high schools don’t have, especially one as active as ours. I want to build on Principal Contreras’s work with the Alumni Association because I think we can never surround our kids with too many adults. I really value so many programs of the Association from Mentoring to all the support you provide to our academic departments and extracurriculars. I’m so grateful on behalf of our students that we have the type of alumni who are so willing to stay connected and invested in the school’s well-being. Thank you again and I can’t wait to continue this partnership.
The Alumni Association works closely with Stuyvesant’s principal and faculty to execute their visions for Stuyvesant which are often beyond the standards and budget of the public school system.
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