Welcoming students as they arrive at school each morning is an important part of the job for Tarkan Ceng, Lenape Elementary School’s new principal. “It provides an extra set of eyes to see if somebody needs support starting their day off,” he explains. “If a student didn’t have the best experience getting on the bus or the night before, they can be supported entering the building, and we’re better prepared for them.”
Ceng’s first day on the job was August 9. He brings nearly 20 years of experience to New Paltz, most recently as principal at Kent Primary School in Carmel, a K-4 building. He began his career as a teacher in Middletown, where he taught kindergarten through sixth grade and middle school ELA courses along with running a summer technology lab. He moved into school administration as assistant principal in the Wappingers Central School District for two years before moving on to become a principal at Sargent Elementary School in the Beacon City School District, where he also directed the community’s universal pre-K program.
Ceng has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from SUNY New Paltz, a master’s degree in instructional technology from New York Institute of Technology and a doctorate in educational leadership from Sage Colleges in Albany.
Having graduated from SUNY New Paltz, Ceng is already familiar with the area and is looking forward to continued hiking in the Gunks and just enjoying the community here. On a recent visit to Main Street, he was introduced to Anatolia restaurant, where the cuisine was familiar to him as a first-generation American born to Turkish parents. Ceng also likes riding motorcycles in his free time — he has a Harley and a Takati — saying, “I think I just like the open air. There are a lot of beautiful places in this state.”
Ceng grew up in Yonkers and moved as an adult to Dutchess County, where he has lived since. He has been married for 17 years to wife Kathy, who is the assistant director at SUNY New Paltz’s School of Liberal Studies and Continuing Education.
His philosophy of the big picture at Lenape Elementary is that “it’s not a matter of ‘if’ children learn; it’s how they learn.” It is the district’s responsibility, he adds, “to access and promote each child’s potential. That’s the charge we’ve been given.”
Asked for his thoughts about the ongoing discussion between district administrators and the New Paltz Board of Education on identifying parameters for student success, Ceng says he is a proponent of “growth mindset” as a means to develop successful students. (The theory that the ability to learn is not a fixed trait but can be developed through dedication and hard work has been advanced by psychologist Carol Dweck, who suggests that growth mindset “creates a love of learning and a resilience essential for great accomplishment.”)
Children need to “feel safe and comfortable in their own skin,” Ceng says. “They have to have that belief in themselves that they can learn, so that even if they’re struggling with a certain concept, they recognize it’s just a struggle, not a judgment that they can or cannot learn something. It’s just something they’re working toward.”
One of the things Ceng says he enjoys about being a principal is that the questions and issues that come up are constantly changing, bringing something new, different and interesting. “It challenges me to either see if my practices or my philosophy are up to par, or to learn something new.”
While there really isn’t a “typical day” on the job, he says, it always involves welcoming everybody coming into the building, making sure the night before that everything that can be ready is ready, and then it’s a matter of “supporting the activities throughout the day, making sure that it’s a safe and nurturing environment.”
Ceng was asked for his thoughts about the push-back against state-mandated tests by so many of the parents in the New Paltz district. Does he think that will be a challenge?
While noting that the district is obligated to the state to administer the tests, the new principal says he is confident that everyone in the district has the students’ best interests in mind. And having met many of the parents a week prior at a “meet-and-greet” held at the school, he is impressed with their level of involvement in their child’s education.
“The parents are their child’s most important, greatest advocate, but they also are looking at the whole picture, at the school as a community that they’re all a part of. Everything I’ve seen and heard about this school community is that it’s working toward high achievement, and I would just like to be able to provide the opportunity for that to be implemented, and be a champion for the faculty, staff and students.