NEW YORK – The French Embassy presented its distinguished ‘The Ordre des Palmes Académiques’ in english Order of Academic Palms to New York City principals Giselle Gault McGee, Jean Veyr’ne Mirvil, Robin Sundick and Shimon Waronker. The four New York City public school principals were honored for their tireless participation in the development of French-English dual language programs in their respective school-PS58 in Brooklyn, PS73 in the Bronx, PS84 in Manhattan and CIS22 in the Bronx.
“I had many recognition in my 24 years of teaching and was not expected such honor,” Mirvil said.
Surrounded by his family and more than 100 staff, the new ‘Chevalier’ was going from table to table to thank people at the following reception at Mars 212 in Manhattan.
Born in Haiti, PS73 Principal Jean Veyr’ne Mirvil has been a steadfast proponent of the French language all his life. He studied French and French literature at the Sorbonne, taught the language of Molière in Queens and supervised the department of languages in District 29, Queens, before heading to the Bronx. He has directed several public schools since 1998, and is currently the principal of PS73 in the Bronx.
When he learned about the nomination Mirvil said he did some research on the title and realized only ministers and high level influential people had received it.
“I always heard of this award but did not think it was for me,” he said.
The award was founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808. A brilliant administrator, Napoleon appreciated the importance of education, and he established the honorary titles of titulaire, Officier de l’Université, and Officier d’Académies as awards for devotion and accomplishment in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and research. The award was then made a ministerial Order under the French Minister of Education and now has three ranks—Chevalier, Officier, and Commandeur.
Designed for English-speakers, bilingual speakers as well as French native speakers who do not yet speak English, the French-English dual language program provides free French immersion classes in two more public schools in New York: PS125 in Harlem, Manhattan and PS58 in Caroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
“The French government has decided to honor these four principals because of their key contribution to the launch of the French-English dual language programs in their public schools,” the Cultural Service of the Embassy said in a statement.
School Chancellor Joel Klein was present at the ceremony that takes place at the Embassy.
All four teachers had sought for each other help at a certain time of their management.
After a brief stint in military intelligence, Shimon Waronker was well equipped to tackle one of New York’s most dangerous schools. Under his leadership, Bronx’s Jordan L. Mott School or CIS22 experienced resurgence and was one of the first three to offer the dual-language program. He is currently serving as Chancellor’s Intern.
“We were fighting to help our children in underserved communities, like the South Bronx,” he said.
He said that some students came from French-speaking Africa and were treated terribly by the children in the community, because of the language barrier, their culture and their darker-colored skin.
Giselle Gault McGee, director of PS58 of the Carroll School is a Staten Island native who has devoted her career to the NYC public school system, both as a teacher and as an administrator. Her school was one of the three forerunners to launch a French-English dual-language program in 2007, paving the way for the program’s current success..
Robin Sundick, who heads PS84, the Lilian Weber School, has launched multiple initiatives to help underprivileged children, particularly recent immigrants who need increased attention as they learn to settle in a new country. A strong believer in the value of cultural diversity, her school was one of the first to implement the dual-language program.
They [teachers] have offered New York’s 300,000-strong French-speaking community representing more than 55 different nationalities access to much needed French-language curricula that will help their children maintain strong ties to their heritage while becoming true global citizens,” the Embassy said.
When asked if that honor will change anything in the way he manages or carries himself, Mirvil answers:
“I will need to have more rigor in the work I have been doing. Now I have to represent a certain value.”