Principal Sana Nasser’s Story
If you want to make a big change in a big school, you’re going to need big ideas.
That is exactly what Principal Sana Q. Nasser of Harry S. Truman High School knew when she took the helm at one of the largest schools in the City back in 1998. With more than 3200 students, and dozens of teachers and staff, Principal Nasser faced many of the challenges that large, urban public high schools confront, such as teacher attrition, a disengaged student body, and low school morale.
Yet, since partnering with Charles Bendit, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Taconic Investment Partners, and Paul Neuman, President of Neuman’s, Principal Nasser has transformed Truman High School—and her own leadership style—into an example of excellence.
Since their Partnership began in 2002, Mr. Bendit, a founder of his own successful real estate business, encouraged Principal Nasser to look at her leadership role through a different lens. “He really transformed my views, and he got me thinking: I’m a CEO, my school is my business, and I want to have the most competitive business I can, producing students prepared to succeed when they leave Truman,” says Principal Nasser. With Mr. Bendit’s ongoing guidance and support, Principal Nasser successfully sharpened her management skills, devised ways to work more effectively with her assistant principals, and created new professional development opportunities for her teachers.
This approach to leadership also helped Principal Nasser and Mr. Bendit pursue her vision of establishing career-themed academies within Truman, allowing students to take practical courses in a “major” while earning a diploma. Drawing on his planning expertise, Mr. Bendit advised Principal Nasser on a strategy for creating the different academies (legal studies, media, culinary arts, and pre-engineering), as well as creating an academic advisory board to oversee the curriculum and structure of each academy.
In 2005, Mr. Neuman joined the Partnership as a member of the academic advisory board for Truman’s Culinary Arts program. As owner of one of the City’s top catering companies, he was able to enhance the culinary curriculum by guiding the conversion of a defunct school kitchen into an instructional classroom, helping the program earn its certification from the Culinary Institute of America, and providing student internship opportunities.
The Partnership has been truly transformative. Thanks to Principal Nasser’s leadership and the establishment of the academies, Truman has been attracting more dedicated and experienced teachers, and the school now boasts a 95% teacher retention rate—up from 60% six years ago. Students in the academies have higher attendance and graduation rates compared to their peers. And because of the improved academic environment, student applications from nearby Co-op City have climbed from 0% to 22%, with more students every year making Truman their first choice of high school.
While Principal Nasser, who was awarded the 2011 New York Post Liberty Medal in the Educator category, has gained much through her Partnerships, she has also inspired her Partners. “There’s a tremendous amount of heart in public education,” says Mr. Neuman. “In my first day of meeting Sana, I saw that heart.” The same is true for Mr. Bendit, who was elected to the New York State Board of Regents in 2007. “She inspired me to get more involved in public education, and more than that, she gave me the confidence that I could make a meaningful contribution,” he says.