Mark Berkowitz, achieving goal with move to PMHS as principal, backs Pelham’s vision

Mark Berkowitz

Mark Berkowitz lives with his family in Hastings-on-Hudson and works in the city. He grew up in Westchester, graduating from Mamaroneck High School. One of his goals was to end up working nearer home.

He achieved that goal when the Pelham school board appointed him to be principal of Pelham Memorial High School, replacing Jeannine Clark, who is retiring after 16 years.

Berkowitz, principal of the New Explorations into Science, Technology & Math (NEST+m) school in lower Manhattan, said “My goal, always, is to serve students, teachers and families. I pursued the Pelham leadership opportunity because the district’s strategic vision aligns to my philosophy of education.”

He said the position in Pelham offers his family the opportunity for a “more integrated life,” as well as the possibility for his family to become part of the district. He said he has always known Pelham to be “a wonderful place to be,” so when the position became available, he was eager to pursue the opportunity.

Berkowitz has headed NEST+m for 5 years, and previously served as assistant principal and teacher at the New York City Lab School for Collaborative Studies.

Berkowitz was named to the NEST+m post on the last day of the 2014-15 school year, so it was difficult for him to build initial relationships with the students and faculty at first.

“Schools are about relationships,” said Berkowitz, “and trust building takes time.”

He said he hopes to be able to meet with individuals and groups of Pelham faculty and students when it is possible to do so, and in the meantime is looking forward to the opportunities for virtual connections which Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ is currently planning.

When Berkowitz graduated high school, he did not have a particular interest in teaching. He double-majored in history and journalism at Indiana University-Bloomington and began to develop an interest in replicating the aspects of school which he enjoyed and changing the parts which were problematic for him. As an undergrad, he began to read about the state of public education across the nation and was confused why it was largely regarded as subpar, since he came from Westchester, where one of the main draws is excellent public schooling.

The influence of his mother, a special education administrator at Mamaroneck, also helped develop his interest in the field. Shortly after graduating college, Berkowitz became a literacy tutor in Chicago, working with someone who “essentially was (his) peer,” but who had not had the same opportunities that Berkowitz had. In his twenties back in New York, Berkowitz served as an adult mentor for a middle schooler through a program called Trail Blazers. He would meet with his mentee in the city and go sightseeing, bringing cultural experiences to the boy’s life that he had access to, but wasn’t exposed to. This combination of providing literacy and cultural enrichment to underprivileged youth, as well as an interest in educational policy, confirmed to Berkowitz that his next step should be a career in education.

When asked about his vision for education in a Covid-19 world, Berkowitz said that while he couldn’t speak to the timetable, he is optimistic during this “deeply challenging, startling, and concerning time… health care will provide an eventual return to normalcy,” as it has after other historical pandemics. He said he doesn’t know what this means for the fall.

He also said schools will have to plan for remote learning to happen again, and that the skills that students and teachers have developed now can be used in the future to make access to the curriculum more meaningful for students.

For Berkowitz, the hardest part of being homebound has been the lack of social interaction. Although he is not fully alone—he has his wife and two children—he is still feeling the effects of isolation.

“We aren’t meant to be isolated,” he said. “We are social beings.”

For Berkowitz, the announcement of his appointment came at a difficult time, as he wishes that he could be spending his final months at NEST+m with his colleagues and students. Nonetheless, he is making the most of his time in quarantine, with lots of board games and bike riding. His daughter, who is in first grade, has “perfected bike riding during quarantine,” and his family has enjoyed many long Monopoly games.

The number and variety of courses and electives offered at PMHS are some of its strengths, as well as the pride of the community, Berkowitz said. He was inspired by the board of education’s strategic plan, which emphasizes authentic learning and the whole child, as it shows the district’s desire to “deepen what is already in place.”

Berkowitz said he is “so excited to join the dedicated Pelham faculty, students and families.”

Even if seniors end their high school careers at home, Berkowitz said he hopes that they will continue to celebrate their achievements and there will be a physical celebration at some point, which he “would love to be a part of.”