Ms. Lisa Fernandez has a unique and deep understanding of the community she so proudly serves. Raised by her mother— a retired school teacher, and her father— a graphic designer, in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where she now works, Lisa has made a career of not just educating the students in her classrooms, but advocating for them with a joyous vigor.
Since becoming principal, Lisa’s mission has been to create a school that reflects the microcosm she created as a classroom practitioner— a space where children are heard, respected and treated with dignity. She says, “I’ve been successful at creating a transformative bubble for the children in my school, a place where their dreams and wants are important, a school where their needs are met.”
Lisa says that when she came to P.S. 119 the teaching staff was not representative of the school’s students and families. The school was academically driven with little regard for social-emotional, cultural and/or ethical learning. From the outset, Lisa worked to change that by hiring a diverse faculty and initiating the Peacebuilders curriculum for everyone in the school. Lisa says her mission has been, “To educate for peace. To give children experiences and opportunities which teach them to create a culture of peace in the school and community.” She adds: “Children’s lives are bombarded with negative images and messages. My goal is to lavish kids with positive messages, so that they find some balance in their lives.”
After finishing high school, Lisa went on to earn her B.A. in Elementary Education from Brooklyn College. While working as a paraprofessional, and then as a teacher with her own classroom, Lisa simultaneously earned an M.A. in Bilingual Ed, and then another M.A. in Administration & Supervision. This took her from the classroom to become Dean, then Assistant Principal, and then ultimately Principal in 2004 at P.S. 119 Amersfort School–where it became her vision to build a culture of peace by using the Peacebuilders curriculum and professional development program as a framework and integrating aspects of the seven core values of the Heartwood Ethics character development program to build academic and social behaviors structured around peaceful practices.
What drove Lisa to seek a principal position was her desire to make a school the mirror of her former classrooms. Lisa knew she could impact more children as a principal, as evidenced by the high-by-any-standard 98% attendance rate. The students at P.S. 119 want to come to school. Despite an environment outside the walls of the school that too often works against the goals of a peaceful and safe education, the students have become transformed into what Lisa knows they have always wanted to be— active peace builders.
In May of 2007, Lisa attended the World Peace Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she was inspired by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and Director of the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Arun Gandhi, and Nobel Peace Laureates, Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992), Jody Williams (1997) and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (1989) to further transform her community by continuing to maintain a culture of peace. Since then Lisa commenced a committed and rigorous practice of yoga and has recently become a yoga instructor. Lisa conducts daily yoga exercises with students before morning line-up and during recess in the schoolyard— weather permitting.
Lisa has always encouraged teachers to be creative and to express their individuality in the classroom by educating the whole child. The result has been a growing community of P.S. 119 graduates who have been transfigured because of Lisa’s influence— a student body that has learned by example to vividly express their own creativity and their own individuality while being life-long messengers of peace.