February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Dynamic Librarian Gets Apple ConnectED Grant for West Harlem Middle School


Peter Kornicker, school librarian and dean of development at PSMS 161.

“Mr. Kornicker is the bomb,” says Pamela Price, the principal of Don Pedro Albizu Campos (PSMS 161), a middle school (K–8) in New York City. Price is referring to Peter Kornicker, the school’s library media specialist and dean of development, who both wrote and submitted the application for the national Apple ConnectED grant.

On October 27, Apple announced that PSMS 161 is one of 114 recipients of the national grant, which will provide every student at the school (close to 900) an Apple iPad, every teacher a Macbook and iPad, and every classroom—45 in total—an Apple TV, in addition to professional development provided by Apple on how to incorporate the new technology into the curriculum.

“I can’t say I’m a great writer,” says Kornicker, “but, grant writing is a very simplistic, nonfiction narrative writing, and when you have a good population to talk about, you have a very easy story to tell.”

The grant

The Apple ConnectED grant is Apple’s $100 million commitment to support President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, a program announced in June 2013 and designed to enrich K–12 education for every student in America through various school and technology commitments—one of the better-known being to “connect 99 percent of America’s students to next-generation broadband and high-speed wireless in their schools and libraries.”

President Obama launched the ConnectED initiative in June 2013.

President Obama launched the ConnectED initiative in June 2013.

On October 27, Apple “published a new website that gives the full details on where that money is headed,” reported The Verge. The grant money will be dispensed to 114 schools, across 29 states, to support their educational goals with technology. (Click here for a complete list of schools.) In addition, 92 percent of the student body from the selected schools are of made up of students of Hispanic, Black, Native American, Alaskan Native, or Asian heritage.

“We’ve chosen to provide our support to schools where at least 96 percent of the students are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program,” states the Apple ConnectED website.

the school

“We are a pure public school—we take every kid who walks through the door,” says Kornicker.

PSMS 161 is located in New York City’s West Harlem, and its principal, Price, has been with the school for nearly 30 years. “I’m very familiar with the parents whose resources are limited, but their desire [for] opportunities for their children are expansive.”

The students are 99 percent Title 1-assisted, with a dual language population of 33 percent, and a Students with Disabilities population of 19 percent. According to Kornicker, “80 percent [of the students are] Latino—mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican—15 percent African American, and 4 percent Arab.”

Principal Pamela Price with famed violinist and founder of the Silk Road Project YoYo Ma.

Principal Pamela Price with world-famous violinist and founder of the Silk Road Project, YoYo Ma.

Price, who envisions her students being able to get jobs in Silicon Valley, shares a story regarding one of her students who’d graduated from the middle school two years ago and returned for a visit.

“She’d been using a computer and writing an assignment in her new school, and she [wasn’t familiar with] the keyboard, because [when she was here] there probably weren’t enough keyboards to go around. That stayed with me,” says Price, who follows up with pride, “this class won’t have that problem.”

Even with budgetary constraints, “technology” is one of the five pillars of building and growing the school, says Kornicker, who ticks off the other pillars: quality staff (he’s also on the school hiring committee), professional development, developing curriculum and resources, and building collaborations.

“Every classroom has a smart board and a document projector,” he adds, saying the equipment was provided by a past grant he’d applied for, the Intel Schools of Distinction Award, which recognizes K−12 schools with some of the most successful math and science programs in the country.

The Apple grant will make Don Pedro Albizu Campos a 1:1 school, but this realization didn’t happen overnight. Kornicker, a certified library media specialist, has been the school’s dean of development for the past 10 years and his role is to find grants and opportunities and create valuable partnerships.

“I tell every principal, ‘Find someone in your building, and let them pursue these opportunities,’” he says.

As a result of Kornicker’s efforts, the school has a rich track record of grants: Connected Learning, a NYC Department of Education grant, which gave home computers to every sixth grader for three years in a row; Say Yes to Education, which provided provided college scholarships for a Kindergarten class of 114 students, as well as ongoing support; two Laura Bush Foundation Grants for America’s Libraries for supplementing school library collections; the Fordham Pearson School of Change Award to schools that show dramatic change in academic achievement; multiple New York City Reso A Grants that were used to build a science lab, two computer labs, and an art room; and the Silk Road Project, a national grant program founded by violinist Yo Yo Ma to educate students about cultures through the performing arts.

The man behind the grant

“My parents were always shocked that I became a librarian. They claim they never saw me with a book,” says Kornicker, who started his career in New York City as a high-fashion photographer. Through the New York City Teaching Fellows Program, he transitioned to the role of third grade teacher at Don Pedro Albizu Campos nearly 15 years ago. Three years into teaching, the school’s principal at the time asked him to take over the library media center.

“When you’re looking for opportunities to help your community,” says Kornicher, “it’s kind of like a snowball going down the hill, so it gets bigger and bigger, and people want to help what is already working.”

The fashion photographer-turned-school librarian, who teaches photography classes on campus, says he doesn’t apply for every grant he comes across. He coaches other media specialists to “learn what is doable” and “be selective.”

“The Apple grant came across my principal’s desk last June, and I…read…the criteria… it wasn’t a very complicated application…we got a new technology coach…and spent the summer thinking about 21st-century type of development.”

Apple will come into each of the recipient schools to assess the school’s individual needs with 1:1 roll out at PSMS 161 estimated to be in 2015, according to Kornicker, who has some words of wisdom for his fellow media specialists:

“Be pro-active, take chances, make mistakes.”

Carolyn Sun About Carolyn Sun

Carolyn Sun was a news editor at School Library Journal. Find her on Twitter @CarolynSSun.

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  1. susan colman says:

    Dear Peter,
    It was a very nice surprise and a good read to see the article “Dynamic Librarian Gets Apple ConnectED Grant for West Harlem Middle School” by Carolyn Sun. In the 12 years we worked together at PSMS 161, sometimes in collaboration, you have developed from an enthusiastic beginning teacher with great communication skills with kids, to this place of being honored (even back in 2014) as a truly dynamic, resourceful and highly successful educator and guide, and deservedly so. Congrats on your contributions to the personal and academic growth and betterment of the student body at 161. Best wishes for your further success! Susan Colman