Dr. Jonah Schenker is the Deputy Superintendent of Ulster BOCES. His path to this position was as unique and customized as he hopes to make the learning experience for each student in the region. Through his own educational and professional journey, Dr. Schenker has learned how people – young and old – learn and what some of the best practices are to instill in them a love of learning.
Dr. Schenker was appointed Deputy Superintendent by the Ulster BOCES Board of Education in 2017, but his route to this position is anything but traditional. During his high school days Schenker was less focused on academic subjects than on areas like woodshop, sports, and band. While pursuing his undergraduate degree he changed majors several times including to one for furniture design/woodworking. Eventually Jonah created an independent study that had him traveling the world, including Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He discovered his own path while connecting with professors and educators via email as he was learning content first-hand rather than sitting at a desk and reading from a textbook.
After graduating and while working as an artist he took a substitute teaching job at a newly developed school in Brooklyn. It was there he truly began to understand his passion for education and where his journey was heading.
Schenker next received a consulting position where he would write curriculum for an Art/Science class and he later decided he wanted to be the one to teach the course. Jonah has always loved working directly with students. He is passionate about sharing knowledge, thinking outside the box that is a typical classroom and learning along with the students. Sometimes it is outdoors, sometimes it is catching students in the moment of learning and sharing their enthusiasm. It is in these rooted relationships where Jonah truly found his calling.
Schenker coins his non-traditional process of his teaching certification being a “NYC approach.” He helped found a school in the city where the students were “overaged and under-credited.” “I have always felt a connection to students that did not connect with the traditional school environment,” states Jonah.
After replicating that environment, a couple of times, Jonah moved back upstate where he pursued a more traditional route teaching Art/3D Design in Poughkeepsie, NY and pursuing his PhD at SUNY New Paltz. While pursuing the PhD Jonah was hired at Ulster BOCES in a dual capacity. Half of his time, he was Assistant Principal for the Center of Alternative Education in Port Ewen and the other half he was a teaching coach through the Instructional Service Division. From there he became the Pathways Academy’s first Principal ensuring its successful launch.
“Dr. Schenker was indispensable in the founding of the Hudson Valley Pathways academy,” said Council president Harold King. “Others were critical too, but the school’s personality, its energy, its ‘vibe’ are from Jonah.” The Hudson Valley Pathways Academy is an early college high school with a focus on project-based learning. The program brings together industries, colleges, and k12 and prepares students for success whatever their individual path might be.
The Pathways Academy was able to congratulate (remotely) their first graduates earlier this year.
What’s next for Dr. Schenker? He plans to continue to grow and replicate P-TECH across the region. This means constantly reevaluating what the skills, learnings, course works, or credentials that are needed to make students successful when they graduate, in whatever direction they take. Whether they enter the workforce right away or pursue a 2-year or 4-year degree, Schenker wants school to work for them.
He also hopes to help Ulster BOCES take greater advantage of technology to aid educators. The impact of the COVID pandemic has accelerated a commitment to remote learning and has created a new field and opportunity for Ulster BOCES. “How are we going to take those lessons learned and reimagine education through those learnings,” asks Dr. Schenker.
Dr. Schenker is very positive about the future Ulster BOCES, and the Pathways Academy programs. He is excited by the challenges they will face in the fall and by the opportunities to re-think education they will present. As is always the case with Dr. Schenker the focus will be on the student, on their well being and on what they need to become curious engaged learners.
Check out Manufacturing Matters podcast session featuring Dr. Jonah Schenker here.