By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kaye Houlihan has wasted no time getting right into the swing of things at Bay Ridge’s Fort Hamilton High School. Houlihan, who was recently named the school’s interim acting principal, got off on the right foot at her new job, literally, by marching alongside her students in the 46th Annual Ragamuffin Parade on Third Avenue on Sept. 29.
Fort Hamilton usually sends a large contingent, including its marching band and students from its Junior R.O.T.C. program, to the parade. This year was no exception. The new principal was right there marching with them, waving to the spectators, and enjoying the parade, one of Bay Ridge's most beloved traditions. “It was fun! And I was so pleased with the welcome I’ve received in the community,” Houlihan said.
Houlihan, who has been at the job for three weeks, said she is enjoying herself. “I love to walk the halls and talk to students. There’s a great spirit in this building,” she said.
Houlihan replaces Joanne Chester, who had served as Fort Hamilton’s principal for 13 years. Chester has retired.
Houlihan has an impressive resume that includes jobs in show business, the corporate world, and in education. Her educational experience is diverse. She taught at Edward R. Murrow High School, mentored teachers, and served as an assistant principal at Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. She also served as the director of a charter school in Washington Heights.
She was born and raised in rural Iowa. “There were 10,000 people in my town,” she said. She left the Midwest to attend Drew University in New Jersey, where she studied English and Theater Arts, earning a B.A.
After college, Houlihan went to work at a talent agency in New York. “I waned to be around the theater and the arts in New York City,” she said. She got a job as an executive assistant at W.N.Y.C. Foundation and worked there for six years, moving up to become the director of finance. “I was grateful for my experience there. It gave me a business background,” she said. She then moved over to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, where she worked in development and marketing.
While Houlihan enjoyed her various positions, something was tugging at her heartstrings. “I knew I wanted to be an educator in a school,” she said. So she entered a Master Degree program at Binghamton University in New York, earning her Master’s in English. “I came back to New York and taught at Edward R. Murrow High School. It was a wonderful experience. The school had a collegial atmosphere with great student involvement and parent involvement,” she said.
Houlihan earned a second Master’s in Education from the Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan, where the focus is to develop educational leaders. She became the assistant principal of English at LaGuardia High School. “I worked there for seven years, building the English Department team. I left there to become the high school director of a charter school in Washington Heights. Ninety-five percent of the students were Latino. I loved being there for them. I felt I was embraced by that population,” she said.
After two years there, Houlihan decided to take a two-year sabbatical from education. “It gave me a chance to reflect. I did consulting work,” she said. She worked as a literacy coach, helping teachers develop better ways to reach students.
In September, Houlihan “got the most amazing phone call” from an official from the New York City Department of Education asking if she would be interested in becoming the interim acting principal at Fort Hamilton. “As quick as it happened, I couldn’t say no,” she said.
She’s happy with her decision. “I’ve just been blown away by the poise of the students and by their enthusiasm. In think I’m in high school heaven!” she said.
Houlihan said she’s impressed with both the academic and extra-curricular programs at Fort Hamilton. “There is a strong music program. We have a jazz band and two levels of chorus program. My goal is to make sue they have venues to perform in and to make sure the programs remain strong. The theater program is great. We have full productions of plays and musicals. I want to also give students the opportunity to do one-act plays,” she said.
Houlihan is a firm believer in the importance of arts education. “It’s so important. You learn new ways to express yourself. You learn how to collaborate and to take risks. Art helps improve a student’s reading ability and it teaches them how to articulate what they know,” she said.