Madeleine Brennan celebrates 50 years of service…and counting

January 22, 2013 Denise Romano
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Madeleine Brennan has been the principal of Dyker Heights Junior High School, I.S. 201, for the past 50 years – and contrary to rumors, she is not stopping anytime soon.

Her decades of service to the community were honored at a gala at Russo’s on the Bay on January 15, where she was given a stunning tennis bracelet. This paper caught up with her in her office the morning after the fete.

Brennan’s love affair with education began when she played school as a child, growing up in Queens.

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“I thought it was a good job. I like people and having a job with people around me,” she said.

For such a petite woman, Brennan has a commanding presence, which is frequently recognized as she goes about her everyday business. Although she “thought she would die” in Queens, Brennan recently moved to Bath Beach.

“Since I moved to the neighborhood, I go into the cleaners, a store, a restaurant, church and I meet someone who says, ‘Oh Mrs. Brennan, I went to Dyker!,’” she said. “It makes me feel good.”

One of her proudest moments is when Dyker was certified by the state as a junior high school.

“When I was appointed, the state didn’t consider Dyker a junior high school. We had to go down to New Utrecht [High School] to take the Regents,” Brennan recalled. “I found out I could avoid that and asked the state to come to the building to certify us. Once we got it, we could give the Regents in our building.”

Brennan runs a tight ship at Dyker. Although there are 1,486 students in the building, you can barely hear a peep from the classrooms. Some say the building “sounds like a Catholic school,” but students are permitted to let loose in between classes and during lunch.

Besides an extensive curriculum, students participate in a science, foreign language, social studies, architecture and multi-cultural fair every year. Each spring, there is a Shakespeare Festival.

“Challenge their minds, make them think,” Brennan said. “They have to work on a project rather than watching TV or playing video games all the time.”

She also praised her staff. “I have a good staff: conscientious and hard working. It has been a pleasure all these years to work with professional people. They are concerned about the kids and the kids know it,” Brennan said.

“Our student body is very good,” she went on. “They are willing to learn and participate in everything. They get a good education. We have a large number who pass [exams to enter] Stuyvesant [High School] and Brooklyn Tech.”

During her time as principal, Brennan said she has made 10 marriages. “They are all happy,” she said. “I am proud of the fact that 35 or 40 supervisors, principals, assistant principals and superintendents all came from Dyker.”

Besides education, music is a passion of Brennan’s. She has been chair of the Friends of Music since 1968. The non-profit gives musical training to children from all five boroughs on Saturday mornings. Each year, groups are rotated to perform at Carnegie Hall.

“This way they all have a chance to perform,” she said, adding that the organization also gives out scholarships.

Brennan has a great set of pipes herself and also plays the piano, organ and autoharp.

Making sure all children get a fair chance is a philosophy of hers. Dyker puts on a play each year and all students are able to try out.

“It’s usually a musical with lots of singing and dancing,” she said. “Sometimes we have as many as 200 kids participating.”

Brennan shared some words of wisdom for aspiring teachers.

“You have to do your own thing. Each one has a different style and you have to find one that you are,” she said. “Study hard, write up a good resume and present yourself. Dress properly. Some people come in for interviews and you wonder where their mind is.”

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