Data-Driven AP Lifts Up Students, Teachers

Lizzy Crispin headed the committee that led Leonardo da Vinci High School to become the first and only Blue Ribbon high school in Buffalo, New York. Currently assistant principal at the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, Lizzy recalls her days as AP at da Vinci: “It was a successful school, and I asked myself ‘What can I bring to the table?’” 

Having worked at a number of turnaround schools, Lizzy was adept at analyzing stats and acting on her findings. At da Vinci, she examined the relatively good stats to see how they could be even better: “I looked at what kind of colleges the students went to and I noticed a trend that they were primarily going to two-year colleges. The number of scholarships they earned and their preparedness for college were also very important to me.” Then, she tried to determine the educational changes that could help them do even better.

With a team of extraordinary master teachers, she accomplished an overhaul of the academic schedule to maximize the students’ opportunities. When the Blue Ribbon application committee was ready to present its report, “we were able to point to the many small changes the school had made as well as the major highlights. That made a huge difference.”

Today, as an AP at Visual and Performing Arts, Lizzy believes her background in academics and data analysis makes her a valued addition to the school. “It’s great that my principal, Jody Covington, shares the same vision of academic excellence,” she says. Principal Covington, an AFSA general vice president, and her predecessor, the late principal (and former AFSA General Vice President) Crystal Boling-Barton, have been Lizzy’s stalwart mentors. She credits them for much of her success. Jody is current president and Crystal was past president of the Buffalo Council of Supervisors & Administrators, AFSA Local 10. 

Lizzy has always been inspired by hard-driving women, starting with her paternal grandmother Luz Cardona, “the hugest force of all,” who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic with only a 3rd grade education; she worked in a factory to bring all her children here. Lizzy says, “Thanks to her, I’m one of 30 grandchildren, all with college educations.”

Lizzy was born in the United States by accident. Her mother Bienvenida Duverge was visiting Lizzy’s father Pedro Osiris Crispin in New York, where he was playing minor league baseball, when Lizzy was born prematurely. Her automatic U.S. citizenship “was a bit of an inconvenience since everyone else in the family had Dominican passports.” She has five siblings.

Her mother infused her with cultural pride and a love of reading. “In every book she bought us, she wrote, ‘Leer es cultura (reading is culture).’ She adds, “I went to theater. I learned ballet, karate and tennis. She wanted to give us everything she didn’t have.”

“I loved growing up in the Dominican Republic!” she recalls exuberantly. “I think of myself as a Caribbean person through and through.”

When Lizzy moved to the United States at 15, her older sister Caroline was already a scholarship student at Canisius College in Buffalo. After two years of high school in New York City, Lizzy would enjoy the same destiny. She studied pre-med and biology at Canisius and says, “Math and science were my jam. I still didn’t speak English well, and math and science are universal languages. The roots of both are Latin.”

To make money for med school, she tutored biology and chemistry. She was so in demand she took on a second major, in education: “I loved showing kids how cool science was.” During her junior year abroad in Spain, she became a volunteer 4th grade teacher at Centro de Educative del Niño de Oviedo. She had found her calling in teaching.

After a year teaching at a charter school in Buffalo, Lizzy was assigned to a career-defining experience at McKinley High School, where she met Principal Boling-Barton. There she taught nearly all the sciences, and Crystal appointed her as coach of a track team that soon became one of the highest-ranking in Buffalo. “I look back on those years of teaching with such pride,” she says. 

When the opportunity to pursue administration arose, she couldn’t bear to leave the classroom or her beloved track team. “My father worked very hard to convince me to take the next step and pursue my master’s in administration,” she said, and soon she went back to Canisius to do just that. She didn’t lack for opportunities. 

“I was hired as an administrator very early,” she remembers.

 First, she was assigned a split AP position at two schools, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy and Arthur O. Eve School of Distinction. She next became a full-time AP and then acting principal at Burgard High School. There, she faced the challenge of developing a new career technology education (CTE)) advanced manufacturing program, but she was able to call upon her extensive experience with CTE when she was at McKinley. She also oversaw a challenging partnership with Alfred State University. The job was “stressful but life-changing” and helped turn her into a seasoned school leader. 

Today, Lizzy’s plate is heaping full. “I have found it hard to strike a professional and personal balance,” she says. She and her sister Caroline share their mother’s care. Whenever possible, Lizzy travels, most recently to Brazil, to learn about other cultures and fully disconnect.

But her most recent successes as AP at da Vinci and Visual and Performing Arts have led her to consider becoming a principal someday. “Jody is helping me become a more global leader,” she says, and she adds, “I’ve worked with low- and high-performing schools, and I think I could bring all of that experience to bear.”