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Port Chester Principal Leaves School Transformed

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- When Dr. Eileen Santiago arrived at Thomas A. Edison School as its new principal in 1996, she had a vision for what a school could do for the community.

"If you want to support the students, you have to support the families," said Santiago, who will be leaving Edison School at the end of the month after 15 years.

One of the major issues Santiago said she sought to address at Edison was a lack of communication between parents and the school.

Santiago said many of the students at Edison have parents who come from Spanish-speaking countries and often lack the language skills necessary to help their children with homework. Additionally, many of these families don't have access to services like healthcare and childcare. Parents often work long hours at low-paying jobs, which can disrupt the home life for students.

One of the first things Santiago initiated at Edison was an afterschool program to provide a safe space for students to study. She also saw a need to provide both medical and mental health services for children, which she accomplished by partnering with community organizations like the Guidance Center and Open Doors Family Medical Centers .

"A child who is not healthy can't succeed," she said.

Another major component is helping parents to get more involved. Edison provides English language and GED courses for parents.

Over the years, Santiago said she has seen student performance improve both in the classroom and on assessment tests. She said scores were steadily increasing until the last two years when assessment tests were redesigned to be more rigorous.

Regardless, she is proud of her work at the school, which she said has been replicated by many other schools throughout Westchester County.

Manhattanville College in Purchase formed a partnership with Edison in 1999, recognizing the effectiveness of service-oriented schools. Students from the college's teaching program provide on-site educational support to Edison students, sometimes in the classroom assisting other teachers or in one-on-one sessions.

Santiago is currently working on a book with a colleague at Manhattanville College detailing her work at Edison.

"I didn't do it alone," she said. "If I have any strength, it's because I realized I couldn't do it alone."

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