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Dr Rushell White – From dancer to overseeing NYC public schools

Published:Friday | September 8, 2023 | 12:05 AMLester Hinds/Gleaner Writer
Dr Rushell White, deputy superintendent of Brooklyn North high schools.

WITH SCHOOLS in New York City reopening this week, among the people charged with ensuring that the reopening process for the city’s public schools goes smoothly is Jamaica-born Dr Rushell White.

White, who is deputy superintendent in the city’s education department, oversees some 47 schools in northern Brooklyn with a student population of some 27,000.

Her journey began in Yallahs, St Thomas, where she was born. She attended Yallahs Primary School before migrating to the United States at age eight. White landed in Bushwick, Brooklyn, at a time when that community was not considered one of the safest in New York City.

She attended elementary school 377 but was accepted in the gifted programme.

She attended IS 383 for the gifted and talented in 1985 and John Dewey High School in Brooklyn in 1990.

But teaching was the furthest thing from White’s mind.

“I wanted to be a dancer. I did dancing not only in Jamaica but also in school here in the United States and was a dance major,” she told The Gleaner.

White revealed that she was part of a dance company, some of whom have gone on to have careers as dancers with several major performers, or have become choreographers.

But her career path change after she became pregnant at age 18 during her last year at high school and needed to find a career to support herself and her child.

After taking a semester off, she enrolled at Brooklyn College in a liberal arts programme.

“That is how I got into teaching. Someone recommended that I apply, which I did and was accepted,” she said.

With her feet set on the teaching path, there was no turning back.

White earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with her advanced certificate in supervision and administration from Brooklyn College after nine years of studies. In December 2018, Rushell White earned her doctorate degree in educational leadership at the Sage Colleges in Albany, New York, and published her dissertation entitled Psychological Safety and English Speaking Caribbean Students in New York City Public Schools.

She has been in education for 23 years, working as an English teacher, dean, assistant principal and nine years as principal of MS 226.

Dr White pointed out that many Caribbean students find it a challenge adjusting to the American educational system.

“In many instances, children from the Caribbean are placed in classes that are not commensurate with their skills set from back home,” she said.

She noted that in many instances, the curriculum is not culturally relevant to many of these students.

“When Caribbean students migrate to the United States, there is a huge gap. They are not equipped in quality as the curriculum is not culturally relevant,” she said.

She added that to bridge this gap, it means educating the teachers to the cultural differences.

To this end, White said that she has been collaborating with teachers in Jamaica to expose students on the ground in Jamaica.

“We have put on an educational conference in Jamaica including at Mico University to ensure that there is not a widening gap between Jamaica and the US,” she said.

The conference, which will be held again next year, also focuses on STEM education.

“We have to invest in students from now to move the agenda along,” she said.

Dr White, who has success turning around failing schools, oversees a number of principals and teachers to ensure that schools meet the required passing standards.

She is considered one of the outstanding educational leaders in the New York school system.