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When Yale Law School announced a new public service fellowship in the name of former New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay earlier this month, the search for its first recipient essentially began and ended with Stefan Pryor. Pryor, 28, was well-known on the school’s New Haven, Conn., campus for being elected a city alderman while still a Yale undergraduate and co-founding New Haven’s first charter middle school as a student at Yale Law School. Now he is the executive director of Breakthrough for Learning, a program in elementary and middle schools in two Brooklyn, N.Y., school districts that uses training, mentoring and school-wide merit bonuses to improve the quality of teaching. “There simply could not be a better match between a fellowship bearing John Lindsay’s name and its first recipient,” said Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman. “Stefan Pryor exemplifies John Lindsay’s dedication to public service and his determination to use law’s tools for the betterment of society.” The fellowship was founded by classmates, friends and former colleagues of Lindsay, who was mayor from 1965 to 1973, and once said that “the greatest service you can give is public service.” It will be awarded to Yale Law School students and graduates working in government agencies, nonprofit groups and public interest law, with a stipend paying a portion of their salaries. Now 78, Lindsay, a 1944 Yale graduate and 1948 Yale Law School alumnus, has Parkinson’s disease and lives in a retirement community in Hilton Head Island, S.C. Pryor, who earned degrees from Yale in 1993 and Yale Law School in 1998, said he was honored to be selected for a fellowship in Lindsay’s name. And he remarked with a chuckle that his colleagues at Breakthrough for Learning may be even more pleased about it than he is. “The stipend means our organization will have to do less fund-raising, which everyone is very excited about,” he said. Pryor’s roots in public service date back to his days as an undergraduate, where as a senior he ran successfully for New Haven alderman in the ward that encompasses the Yale campus. After graduation and through his first two years of law school, he worked as a policy advisor to New Haven Mayor John DeStefano. During his final year of law school, Pryor worked as a student teacher in a New Haven high school and co-founded New Haven’s first charter middle school, a magnet school known as Amistad Academy. The school, which includes an emphasis on a “micro-society” in which students run their own banks, legislatures and other institutions, was opened through the efforts of a coalition of Yale law students and graduate students and New Haven teachers and residents. “It was a group of people who were interested in demonstrating that public educational institutions could be effective,” Pryor said. The mission is much the same at Breakthrough for Learning, which attempts to improve the performance of students by improving their teachers’ performance. The privately funded program, which is co-sponsored by the New York City Partnership and the Board of Education, provides financial incentives for the training and mentoring of teachers, and awards performance-based bonuses for entire school staffs, from principals down. The United Federation of Teachers, which is opposed to merit bonuses for individual teachers, supports the Breakthrough initiative because the rewards are administered school-wide. Breakthrough for Learning awarded its first bonuses, $10,000 and $15,000 for principals and $1,000 and $2,000 for teachers, in May to six schools in District 19 in East New York after they improved student performance in reading and math. The program also operates in District 23 in Brownsville, N.Y.. Pryor described the bonuses as a way to restore a culture of performance in schools that have struggled historically. “What has been lacking is a real sense of focus,” he said, “focus on the bottom-line of student academic achievement, and I think what the incentives provide is that focus.”

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