January 2024, Fordham/NYC CSTAC Community Schools Spotlight:

Student-Centric Strategies:
How South Bronx’s Metropolitan High School Thrives as a Community School

Located in the South Bronx, Metropolitan High School has been successfully implementing the community school model for several years. In partnership with Phipps Neighborhoods, Principal Zaimi Mohamed has worked closely with Community School Director Mustafa Riza to implement strategies that have improved student achievement, reduced chronic absenteeism, and enhanced supports for students, families, and staff.

CSD Riza has been part of the Metropolitan High School community for seven years, and he has had the opportunity to witness the transformation from their earliest days as a community school.

“During my time at Phipps Neighborhoods, I’ve been a part of the Metropolitan family for about seven years now. Prior to my current role as a community school director, I was a program director for the 21st Century and NYC Department of Youth & Community Development (DYCD) program, and in my first year running the program I also helped with the adult education program for parents. Running each program taught me that building relationships is vital to the success of any program or community,” says CSD Riza. 

His connections to both the school and its surrounding communities have contributed to his success in this role. 

“Once I became the Community School Director, having simple but meaningful conversations with students on what would encourage them to attend school daily became easier due to past encounters and relationships built over the summer and past school years. Growing up in the Bronx, where my students are from, contributes to the relationships I’ve built. Being a part of the neighborhoods they are from gives me the opportunity to connect with my students and the community on a deeper level.

CSD Riza stresses the importance of being visible and accessible to students.

“Being present to greet them in the morning with simply a hot meal or sitting with them during lunch time provided me access to who the student was, but also what sparks the student’s interest. Once the students knew I was genuine and cared about them as individual people, students would show up to events. Positive phone calls, I notice, spark a parent’s attention more than calling them with something negative. Also, parents are always contacted and made aware of any resources we have or know of. We know that it takes time to build certain relationships, but it starts with understanding our parents.”

The school’s principal has strongly supported the implementation of the Community School approach, sharing a common vision with CSD Riza and Phipps Neighborhoods. 

Partnering with Phipps Neighborhoods has bolstered school goals by fostering stronger community ties, providing additional resources, success mentorship, specialized after-school, and programs that enhance students’ learning experiences beyond the classroom,” says Principal Mohamed. “As a principal leading a community school, I am excited by the broader support and resources available through community partnerships. These collaborations offer our students unique opportunities, access to additional funding, provide diverse learning experiences, and foster stronger connections between the school and its surroundings. Phipps Neighborhoods helps us create a more holistic, supportive environment that enriches students’ lives academically, socially, and emotionally.”

Key to facilitating this healthy collaborative relationship is Joseph Vereen, Managing Director, Community Education & Schools at Phipps Neighborhoods. “As a managing director, I view my role as facilitating the productivity of my team members and the schools and programs they support, transforming them into effective thought partners and change-makers,” says Mr. Vereen. Through strategic use of partnerships, he is “laying the foundation for collaborative change and transformation. Currently, our focus includes working on a Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle with the attendance team to ensure they maximize their efforts and achieve efficacy. Simultaneously, we are addressing the issue of school violence to reduce chronic absenteeism. This effort involves leveraging resources from a Department of Justice grant, with a specific focus on reducing school violence.”

This aligns well with a signature initiative at the school: the implementation of restorative justice practices. Throughout my time at Metropolitan High School, we have always gravitated towards the restorative justice model. It teaches students key skills, such as communication and conflict resolution,” says CSD Riza. Students get in trouble less and suspensions are usually low. From my experience, when students adapt to this model, they are able to communicate effectively what their needs are. Faculty and staff learn how to support students from a youth center approach and understand the social-emotional aspect when responding to students in the building.”

Looking ahead, CSD Riza expects continued growth at Metropolitan High School. “My long-term goals for Metropolitan High School are to increase attendance to 90%, decrease chronically and severely chronic absentees, and increase parent engagement in our school community,” says CSD Riza. “The goal is for every student to be excited to attend school with different community events and incentives happening at the school. As the CSD, I’m also interested in building those connections with not only students but also with staff members in the building on the ways that I can support them better at Metropolitan High School. Over the next 2-3 years I will be working hand in hand with the principal and key stakeholders to ensure all of our community school needs are met.”

Do you have a community school story that you would like featured in our e-newsletter?

Email Kevin Coyne at cstac@fordham.edu or call 212-636-6100.