Written by Emma Burstiner, Editor in Chief of The Beak at Greenwich High School
“I always wanted to inspire students to be productive citizens,” Rick Piotrzkowski shared as his long term career goal.
Starting as a chemistry teacher, becoming the Science and Technology Program Administrator, moving to Assistant Headmaster, and now interim Headmaster of Greenwich High School, Mr. Piotrzkowski has seen GHS from every possible perspective.
He is also familiar with the student perspective, as his four children have all attended GHS.
Piotrzkowski has always had a love for the hard sciences, specifically chemistry and physics. He chose to continue study in chemistry, and with this decision he chose to take on the challenge of teaching.
Piotrzkowski said, “It is a challenge to teach something difficult in nature and it is even more difficult to make it easy for students.”
While he wanted to make chemistry accessible to all students, his teaching had an additional goal: to mentor students, build relationships, and “create productive, great citizens.” He wanted his students to be able “to achieve anything they put their mind to.”
When the opportunity to become Science and Technology Program Administrator presented itself, Piotrzkowski jumped to it.
He realized in the classroom he was only impacting those students – as an administrator, he would “impact a greater number of students.”
Piotrzkowski was able to cultivate a great science program, and he was able to mentor teachers to influence a greater number of students. When presented with “gifted and talented teachers,” he explained, there was a great opportunity to grow the program as well as impact many students positively.
His goal to cultivate what he calls” productive, great citizens” grew and continued as he moved into the position of Assistant Headmaster, and it will continue now as interim Headmaster.
Following advice from former Headmaster and mentor, Dr. Chris Winters, Piotrzkowski will approach the new position in a collaborative fashion.”If you want to move the needle, you must be collaborative and work as a team,” he said.
His first plan is to continue the existing five-year GHS Strategic Plan, which focuses on ensuring that students are career and college ready after GHS. Specifically, it focuses on achievement of the Vision of the Graduate principles.
A decision to help supplement this plan comes in the form of the new capstone requirement. Beginning with the class of 2023, students will be required to fulfill 25 credits instead of the previous 22. The additional three credits will be earned by completing a Capstone Project.
Each year students will earn a quarter of a credit point through their Capstone. This project is essentially a way to make sure students are demonstrating capacities of Vision of the Graduate, and it will be a way to measure this achievement through letter grades. This change has been worked towards for seven years, and the administrative team is excited to see it become operational.
The other main change which will occur this year is the Opportunity Block, which was the brainchild of outgoing superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea. This will be reflect both an operational change and culture change as the whole GHS community will be impacted.
For the first two cycles of the schedule, the block will function as follows:
In the last block of the day, if a student is in a scheduled class, instruction will end at 2:45pm.
“At that point, students will either stay in that class and get extra help from the teacher or do other homework,” Piotrzkowski explained. “Teachers will take a second attendance, so if students attempt to leave, it will be recorded as a cut. Students also have the ability to get a pass from a different teacher earlier that day, and they can show their last block instructor and go to that other teacher during this Opportunity Block.”
If a student is in grades 10, 11, or 12, and they have last block open, Piotrzkowski said they are encouraged to take advantage of the time, but if they can arrange for their own transportation, they can leave early and go home.
During the first cycle, though, Piotrzkowski said “teachers will tell the administration what day of the cycle they would like to facilitate or lead an Opportunity Block through a description. If students have an idea or passion, they are encouraged to work with teachers and have them put it in as an Opportunity Block. If ideas are pursued with teachers, clubs would be able to meet in this time.”
As teachers present their ideas, the administration will approve the various blocks.
By the second cycle, the various opportunities will be shared with everyone, specifically students. “Students will use course codes and go through the Aspen Portal to sign up for them,” Piotrzkowski said.
The goal is by the third cycle that Opportunity Blocks are incorporated into student schedules with course names, teachers, and blocks.
By the third cycle of the first marking period, the administration hopes the Opportunity Block will be operational.
Because the Opportunity Block will function like a typical block, attendance will be taken and students cannot leave. The only students leaving are those participating in GHS sponsored events (typically athletic competitions) that are scheduled for an early release.
Piotrzkowski assured that letters will be sent home explaining how the Opportunity Block will function in further detail.
He also shared that he is excited for many aspects of his new position. As assistant headmaster, he was behind the scenes doing day to day operations. Now he will have the opportunity to interact with students, teachers, parents and the community of Greenwich face to face.
“I’m excited to spread the good word about what is going on in this building,” he said.
Piotrzkowski said he looks forward to leading the school, working collaboratively with leadership groups, such as the Student Government Executive Committee, students, and teachers, and implementing the Strategic Plan, one student at a time, so all students can graduate career and college ready.
His work will always have the intention of ensuring all students become the productive, great citizens they have the potential to be.