Meet your Local Leader: Alexandra Weider from Playgarden Prep

Pre-school Director in Lower Manhattan

By Anu Kapur, Publisher, Lower Manhattan Macaroni KID & Upper West Side Macaroni KID February 7, 2024

Ms. Weider, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and what led you into educational leadership.

My name is Alexandra or Miss Ally to most of our little ones! I was born and raised in Woodstock, New York. I attended Undergraduate in Albany, NY and moved to New York City in 2012 to pursue my Graduate degree at Hunter College. I fell in love with this city and grew fascinated by the early childhood initiative and competitive preschool system - and I have been in NYC ever since. I never anticipated getting involved in an educational leadership role until an opportunity presented itself early in my career, but now I can’t think of anything more suited to my personality and educational goals. 

How long have you been with Playgarden Prep? Where were you before this?

I have been with Playgarden Prep for seven years. I started off teaching here fresh out of Graduate school, and my position has since grown into the Educational Director. Prior to Playgarden Prep, while completing my Masters, I taught within numerous other school settings including public and private, and age ranges from 2’s all the way to 2nd grade!

How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is straightforward. I have many type A personality traits, which I think benefits my current role. I revel in organization and efficacy, which I hope also aides in my teachers’ confidence and success. I also aim for collaborative relationships with the teachers. I think it is important to listen to their wants, needs, and feedback - they are after all experts of their own classes. As an effective leader, I feel it necessary to consider and mesh together the best interests of both the program as well as the teachers and students involved. 

What is your school’s philosophy? Teaching style? How do you encourage that kind of culture?

Playgarden Prep’s philosophy is founded on basic Montessori principles. However, over the years we have grown and adopted aspects of various other styles, which all influence lessons and teaching style. We encourage this by carefully planning each classroom to tailor to the different philosophies. Children are usually adaptable and we help them experience each aspect of the curriculum to the fullest. 

How is the pandemic affecting you? Are you offering virtual classes?

The pandemic sadly forced our school to close in March 2020, but we were fortunate enough to be able to reopen our doors this September for a fresh start. While class capacities are limited, and we face new challenges from strict health regulations, we are thrilled to be open and have been COVID-free since coming back!

During our COVID closure, we quickly worked to create and provide an online learning platform to continue the best learning experience we could, with limited resources available. We found a mix of pre-recorded lessons, live zoom classes, and supplemental worksheets and check-ins resonated with the different learning styles of each child. While difficult, we were proud to finish off the year strong. This learning platform, Playgarden Prep Online, has since been expanded with hundreds of lessons and new content and is now offered as an alternative to our in-person learning. 

What advice would you give to a new teacher in his or her first year?

While important for new teachers to value their school's values and goals, it is also important to develop your own personal teaching style. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or advice from colleagues or supervisors - you may find something that works for you that doesn’t work for others. I also like to prepare new teachers on the reality of their roles, and the importance of understanding each day, week, month, or year may be vastly different than the last. This job is about your ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and it is OK to learn as you go! 

Do you have a separation process for kids entering school?

Prior to COVID, our separation process included teacher meet & greets, class phase-in playdates, as well as gradual modified drop-off for the first couple of weeks. However, new city regulations have unfortunately forced us to alter this process. We are hopeful that we can eventually go back to this, but in the meantime, we have made some changes. This year we filmed teacher introductions for each class, held socially-distanced playdates in the park, and virtual parent workshops via zoom. 

What strategies do you use to manage children with special educational needs?

This comes naturally to most early childhood educators. Children develop at various speeds, especially during these years and we are very familiar with unique situations. Our teachers are trained to spot and adapt classrooms, curriculum, or instruction in order to facilitate learning for students with special educational needs. We also like to work closely with parents or outside resources they utilize, in order to make the best decisions possible for the child. 

What steps would you take if you are dealing with a student discipline incident?

The safety of our students is the top priority at Playgarden Prep. Respect for other children and teachers is essential to maintain our classroom environment. We view discipline as an ability to direct oneself that children arrive through their own effort, guided by teachers. Children learn through observing appropriate behaviors, modeled by adults around them. When needed, we also provide a "calming corner" for students to take a break from any situation and recenter. If a situation persists, we would communicate with the parents in order to develop a custom discipline plan that is consistent from home to school. 

How do you recruit and maintain quality teachers and staff members?

I really like to hire off of word of mouth. This is preferable because we are a smaller program, and I like the team to be close. However, I also frequently use the Hunter College job boards in their early childhood program - as I attended here and learned valuable methods for teaching. Beyond hiring, we are always taking professional development courses that keep my staff up to date on the ever-changing childcare regulations and best practices! 

What are some of your family favorite events that you host? Do you host any that are open to the public?

Our school Halloween party and Holiday concert are always my favorite family events of the year! The children are SO excited to share their classroom space and show off things they have been working on to their families. 

Our Halloween party is typically open to the public. We also host Open Houses throughout the year, which are open to prospective families. 

Please tell us what makes your school unique from others in the area?

I believe that our school is unique largely in part because of our multi-philosophy approach to teaching and learning. Many schools in the area subscribe to one specific style, which guides their program and curriculum. At Playgarden Prep we mix aspects of Montessori, Reggio-Emilia, emergent, traditional/core-curriculum, and custom content into one program. We found that children of this age need to be exposed to an array of learning and teaching styles in order to find one that best suits them. This way, we are able to identify learning strengths early on to better guide parents when they are choosing their next educational steps. 

We also have a HUGE indoor playspace, equipped with ball pits and zip lines to add to the fun!

Strong leaders are constantly learning. What is a great book or resource that has helped you grow and that you would recommend to others? 

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson

We want to get to know you a little better. Let’s play a round of quick questions. Tell us the first thing that comes to your mind:

Where are you originally from? Woodstock, NY

Do you have kids? How old are they? None yet!

In which Hogwarts house would you be sorted? I am sad to say I have never read/watched any Harry Potter! (I know, I know)

Your favorite movie? Erin Brockovich

Your hidden talent? I have been known to make a mean charcuterie board. 

What is your dream vacation? South Africa!

What would the students be surprised to find out about you? That I do not in fact, live at Playgarden Prep. 

What’s a typical Saturday night like for you? Trying new restaurants with good friends. 

How do you spend your summer breaks? Traveling and working to prepare for the new school year.

What are your “trapped on a desert island” books or movies? How To: Survive being stranded on a deserted island. 

What is your favorite dessert? Ice cream!

What accomplishment fills you with pride? Prep Graduation. Every year - never gets old. 

Do you have a morning routine that gets you ready for school? I love to listen to music while I get ready, it prepares me for the high energy day ahead.

What inspires you? Solving problems and creating solutions. 

What is the best thing about being a principal? Having the available outlet to create, tweak, and implement new curriculum as the program grows and evolves. 

Any advice you would like your students to remember, always? Always say yes to opportunities that interest you - even if you’re scared. 

A gift from your student/s that you value the most? Anything they feel pride in giving means the most to me. 

Is there a quote or saying that you live your life by? "Try to laugh even when you don’t want to smile". Every educator knows this to be true!

What song do you know all the lyrics to? These shark.

Your favorite Spirit Day in school is… Pajama Day!

Please offer some words of wisdom for the rest of us.

In the current state of this world, our jobs as educators are more important than ever. Remember that children feel deeply and understand more than you may know. Teaching kindness and solid life values are vital to development and truly takes a village! Talk to your children and explore how to engage with them during fun and difficult times. 

Thank you!

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