Michael Haberman, MPA 2003
and Melissa Leitman, MPA 2006

Transforming New York City Public Schools

"There's not a day I don’t wake up excited to go to work,” says Michael Haberman, (MPA 2003). He and fellow alumna Melissa Leitman (MPA 2006) both work at PENCIL, a New York City organization that “builds and supports customized relationships between business leaders and principals to inspire innovation and transform public schools.” While their career trajectories are at different stages, Haberman and Leitman find common ground at PENCIL, an organization they both believe has the power to make a strong impact on New York City education.

As one of the city’s largest education nonprofits, PENCIL works with over 500 schools in New York City’s five boroughs. It is an organization that gives Haberman an opportunity to use his skills in building bridges between the business community and civic life. Earlier in his career he worked as the Chief of Staff at the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs and then at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He later served as Director of Government and Community Relations at NYU. While working at NYU, he joined the board of the Greenwich Village and Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and eventually became its chair. After graduating from Wagner, Haberman had the opportunity to work on the redevelopment at Ground Zero. When the opportunity at PENCIL came up, he knew it would bring him back to the intersection of the business world and the local community – the place where his passion lies. He has been President at PENCIL since December of 2006. “Our goal,” says Haberman, “is to ensure that every school in New York City that wants a business partner has one.” This goal keeps him busy focusing on external relations and recruiting partners as well as working to enhance and improve the program so it has the maximum impact on the schools PENCIL serves.

Leitman also keeps busy working towards this goal. She joined PENCIL’s staff right after graduating from Wagner in 2006 as the Partnership Coordinator for Brooklyn and Staten Island. She works with close to two hundred schools, matching them with leaders from the business world according to their needs and shared interests. Once partnerships are established she helps principals and their business partners work together to set goals and carry them out over the course of the school year. Partners work with schools on projects such as creating career awareness opportunities for students, increasing parent involvement and developing leadership skills with the principal and the school staff. For example, Leitman says, “we work with Martha Stewart Living magazine and they are helping their high school publish a magazine from start to finish. Not only does this give students a chance to learn about careers in journalism, but by the end of the school year, students will be able to add an incredible experience to their college application.” Leitman enjoys getting to know different principals with various leadership styles and matching them with business leaders from all walks of life. As everyone comes to PENCIL for different reasons, she finds it challenging yet exciting to figure out how best to build partnerships that will have a lasting fit. She also enjoys watching the organization expand. “We’re sort of in our adolescent stage of development” she says and explains that the organization is growing at a rapid rate.

At times, the growing pains seem strong. Leitman points out that the waiting list of schools that would like a partnership with a business is long. Nevertheless, while meeting the high demand from schools requires great effort, both Leitman and Haberman seem up to the challenge. Their passion for their work drives their dedication to the organization. “What I do is not just my job,” says Haberman, “it’s a large part of who I am – it’s what I love.”

For more information about getting involved with PENCIL, call 212-524-2393 or visit www.pencil.org.