• Interim President Paul Arcario’s Leadership



    When Paul Arcario, Ed.D. enrolled in elementary algebra (Math 096) for students needing developmental mathematics before moving onto college-level classes at LaGuardia Community College (“LaGuardia”), it wasn’t to get a refresher on the quadratic equation.

    He wanted first-hand data on why some LaGuardia students were struggling to pass developmental math, into which approx. 70 percent of LaGuardia students place. Some need to take the courses several times before passing—making their route to graduation longer, more expensive, and frustrating.

    At the time, he was LaGuardia’s dean of Academic Affairs. As he says, “I wanted to support our math faculty, but I didn’t have a deep familiarity with our math curricula. Just sitting in one or two classes would’ve given me a snapshot, not the full picture.”

    What he found was that, despite solid teaching, his classmates didn’t always understand test questions, and often didn’t see why they needed to take a math class—especially if they planned to major in a humanities field. As well, the math tutorial lab was overwhelmed with students seeking help.

    After the semester, in which he attended every class and took every exam (passing with high marks, which he earned with solid study time), he presented his observations to the math department, laying the groundwork for pedagogical changes that have improved outcomes for hundreds of LaGuardia students taking developmental math.

    Arcario’s decision to take elementary algebra as dean of Academic Affairs is an embodiment of his philosophies for both academic leadership and pedagogy.

    “I want faculty to understand that I’m their partner—I’m committed to their work and helping in any ways that I can,” says Arcario. “They have the subject expertise, and I can help with my understanding of pedagogy and finding new resources through grants to introduce and improve programs that benefit students.”

    He used a similar strategy when considering a request for CUNY campuses to expand online course offerings. Arcario began by examining the available data about online classes. Are they effective with community college students? For all disciplines? What works and what doesn’t?

    Wanting to take a deeper look at online courses, he signed up for one offered by UCLA—observing that its tight structure and regular deadlines were essential to keep students on track.

    His next step was to examine online instruction from the perspective of a faculty member, and taught a course using a hybrid model, divided between classroom time and online discussions.

    “Some of the benefits of online teaching were surprising—namely, the greater degree of personal connection I developed with students,” says Arcario. “They’re accustomed to communicating digitally, and especially at a commuter school like LaGuardia, most don’t have time to go to office hours. So they seemed to open up more online.”

    Today, approximately 10 percent of LaGuardia classes are online or in a hybrid model.