Transforming a failing school into success for Queens students

See all Posse alumni stories

As a kid, Vanderbilt Posse Alumnus Carl Manalo never thought of himself as much of a leader. But after becoming the principal of Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology (QIRT), Carl’s inclusive leadership transformed and revitalized a school left to fail.

“I just say, be the person you needed when you were younger,” he says of his student-centered approach as an educator.

The son of Filipino immigrants, Carl grew up in a poor neighborhood in the North Bronx. He studied education as a Posse Scholar at Vanderbilt University and went on to receive a master’s in education from Fordham University. Carl then spent nine years teaching in public high schools in the Bronx and another three years as an achievement coach in the New York City Department of Education.

Carl inherited the head position at QIRT in 2014, when the school’s four-year graduation rate was just 55 percent, one of the lowest in the city. Today, QIRT has increased that to an outstanding 81 percent, higher than both the borough and city averages.

Carl Manalo at lunch with QIRT students. (Photo: Madison Darbyshire)
Carl Manalo at lunch with QIRT students. (Photo: Madison Darbyshire)

The school is located in the under-resourced neighborhood of Far Rockaway in Queens, New York. Ninety-six percent of QIRT’s students are racial and ethnic minorities. Twenty-eight percent are English language learners. Many are undocumented, refugees, or unaccounted minors. Most live below the poverty line.

“Posse gives people the audacity to feel they can make a change in the world.”

Reflecting on his first impression of QIRT, Carl says, “All I saw was potential. All I saw was what could be.” He believed in the possibility of change—a quality he developed as a Posse Scholar.

“One thing that Posse has done for a lot of people, is give them the audacity to feel like they can make a change in the world,” Carl says.

To help realize QIRT’s potential, he developed a strategic improvement plan. Carl stayed true to his leadership style, seeking input from the school’s learning community and fostering a collective investment in success.

“I wanted to bring us to a place where everybody had ownership,” Carl says.

He now greets students by name and with high-fives in the morning, spends hours observing and speaking to teachers, makes tea for students who want to talk and keeps extra lunches on hand in his office for anyone who needs it.

Driven to develop the students’ agency, Carl is intentional about school policies. For example, every year, QIRT creates a clean slate for all clubs and organizations. Carl tasks students to write proposals, gather signatures, secure advisors, and explain why a given club or activity is beneficial to the community.

“The programs are theirs.” Carl says. The goal is giving students stronger legs to stand on, building them up both socially and academically for what lies ahead.

A "Change Your Words, Change Your Mindset" bulletin board at QIRT. (Photo: Madison Darbyshire)
A "Change Your Words, Change Your Mindset" bulletin board at QIRT. Photo: Madison Darbyshire)

“I want to be able to help my kids navigate college, the way Posse helped me navigate college,” he emphasizes.

“I say, be the person you needed when you were younger.”

Having personally experienced a lack of support when he came out as a teenager, he doesn’t hide his sexuality from his students. Carl is openly gay and places great emphasis on building an inclusive community at QIRT.

“It’s important for kids to see that you can be gay and have a normal life,” he says.

Grateful for the support and development he received from Posse, Carl continues to give back in many forms. He jokingly describes himself as a “Posse Gala Veteran,” having not missed a single Posse Gala since becoming an alum. He is a recurring alumni donor, and has volunteered as a writing coach for new Scholars.

“Whenever Posse calls, I answer,” he says.

And notably, as a longtime leader in New York City public schools, he nominates his students for Posse Scholarships. This year, Carl’s nominations have come full-circle at QIRT: the school’s very first Posse Scholar, Shania Johnson, will be attending Lawrence University in the fall.

Watch: Carl’s Ainslie Award Tribute Video

Vanderbilt Posse 8

Share your Posse Story

Feeling the #PosseLove? Doing something exciting that you want to shout from the rooftops? We want to hear about how Posse has affected your life and the world around you.