April 2021 Student Spotlight
Assistant Director of Education at New Alternatives for Children, Caroline Greig tells us about her career, her Marxe Executive MPA experience, and her take on the recent evolution of education and special education, for better or worse.
Can you tell us about your role and accomplishments at New Alternatives for Children?
I’ve been lucky to work in the Education Department at New Alternatives for Children (NAC) for over ten years. NAC is a social service agency that works with families with a medical need involved in child welfare, as well as post-child welfare voluntary programs and Medicaid programs. After teaching special education for three years in Philadelphia, I was eager to get back to NYC and think about what would come next. I wanted to stay in education, knowing the impact it can have in a child’s life, but I didn’t know if being in the classroom was what I wanted. I found NAC and was hired as their Reading/Education Specialist, then promoted to Coordinator, and finally Assistant Director of the department.
In my current role, I supervise staff within the Education Department who do education advocacy for children birth through 20 somethings, as well as education programming and events. Our staff have upwards of 75 cases at a time, frequently more. We work to get families services through Early Intervention as well as the Department of Education via an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for special education services. We also have a significant population living in shelters. Our programming includes a tutoring program for K- college age, family workshops about literacy, teen groups, staff trainings around education systems, and agency wide events including our Book Fair and Back to School Event. We work with just about every department at NAC to help ensure children are getting the services they deserve in addition to outside advocacy organizations to support the mission of equitable education throughout NYC no matter ones need or ability.
I’ve had accomplishments that have felt both visible and intimate. When I started at NAC, I was traveling to two different families for 6 months at a time to tutor in the community. This has grown to over 15 volunteers, multiple staff, and over 65 children a year receiving free tutoring at our agency. This is not just homework help, but focused on academic deficits. We frequently attend IEP meetings as well to help families bring insight to their child’s academic needs in addition to the school. We have expanded our Back to School Event each year to include more partnerships with outside organizations, more activities for kids and families, and more donations. Despite COVID, we delivered over 900 stuffed backpacks to children three years old and up so they would be ready to learn once schools opened. One staff and I stuffed all these backpacks and worked with our amazing Director of Community relations and Transportation Department to get clients these items.
More intimate accomplishments have been with clients. Parents who previously felt confused and unheard at a school meeting could now attend that same meeting with knowledge, a voice, and an advocate at their side. We obtained hundreds of hours of tutoring from the DOE as compensation for missing services that were going unaddressed. Building trusting relationships with parents, schools, and outside organizations to accomplish something for a child is more challenging than many who have privilege realize. I have become a strong advocate for parents by learning to navigate systems, escalate concerns, and work to encourage empathy for a struggling family. I have been extremely lucky to have supportive supervisors, and an executive director who fully believes education is access out of poverty. This has allowed enabled the work in our department to be so impactful.
What I’m most proud of is the growth and accomplishments of our staff. They have learned to nimbly navigate complicated processes while creating strong relationships with parents and youth who have experienced significant challenges and trauma in their lives. Their creativity and genuine care for our work has made our department successful.
How have attitudes, processes, and approaches in education and special education evolved since you began your career?
More recently, with advocacy from the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) and organizations such as Advocates for Children, there has been more support systems put in place for students living in temporary housing and children in foster care. State policy has required school stability for these children knowing that at times they could change schools multiple times a year because of unstable housing or foster care placements. Designated staff at a school and at the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) who support busing for students across NYC has made our advocacy work result in more timely outcomes. However, individual schools across NYC still struggle with understanding child welfare involvement, especially foster care.
One change that has been exciting for the work we do with children with medical and various special needs is the creation of more specialized programs within the Department of Education. These programs include those for children with a diagnosis of Autism (NEST, Horizon, AIMS), intellectual disabilities (ACES), and now I Read. This program is for entering kindergartners who we can predict will struggle with literacy.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the lack of communication with the DOE. I have had to tell schools about these special programs or other services and processes that they are unaware of and internal employees at the DOE, but we know from our experience working across the city and periodic research. Similarly, school by school varies so much. While some are willing to provide every creative solution to help a child make progress no matter their need, others are resistant to provide the bare minimum. I cannot imagine having to navigate this without the knowledge I have as a parent with a child with special needs; it seems insurmountable.
Tell us about your time in the Executive MPA program thus far. What have you learned that’s been especially helpful to your job and career?
I was looking for a way to enhance my skills in the workplace to help me be the best manager and leader I could be. The Executive MPA program has offered so much to my day to day; I leave each class thinking about how to implement what I have learned that week.
Our Public and Non-Profit Management class started in-person and quickly transitioned to online when the city went into lock down. The Marxe professor was John Casey and Eboné Carrington was the the practitioner and Chief Executive Officer at Harlem Hospital. We were given invaluable insight on what to do at the height of a crisis during an unprecedented time within a Health and Hospitals organization. At the same time, we saw our professors quickly adjust their plans to rethink what could be accomplished in our class and what would be changed. We watched leadership at its best in those moments.
As a former teacher, I was told to constantly reflect on lessons and interactions with students, to assess outcomes periodically, and that relationships are essential to success. The same is true in the workplace. Everything you do is to make your staff more effective. Steps to purposefully reflect, assess outcomes, and build relationships should be taken in supervision and are an essential part of leading. It reinforced that being a leader is about your staff and organization’s accomplishments. The most impactful project was to create a career plan for myself around my strengths, areas of growth, and career goals. What makes a successful team, what is emotional intelligence, how to purposefully create a diverse and inclusive workplace were all concepts I reflected on to understand how I need to implement them into my personal career goals for the betterment of my performance and my staff.
Most importantly, I have learned so much from my amazing cohort. The perspectives, insight, and support shared has made my experience in the Executive MPA meaningful in a way I didn’t expect.