Yoga czar for NYC schools touts meditation, pricey Berkshires retreats
24th May 2020

While Chancellor Richard Carranza plans to cut hundreds of millions from NYC classrooms, his little-known yoga czar — the school system’s first “Director of Mindfulness” — makes nearly $200,000 a year while organizing retreats for educrats in the Berkshires.

Barnaby Spring, the Department of Education’s chief yogi, is trying to expand yoga and meditation for students, staffers and execs, deeming the contemplative practices and body-bending postures like the Downward-Facing Dog as important as academics.

“This is specifically to begin to put the social-emotional needs of children in a place where it’s just as important if not more important than academic learning,” Spring told Mindful.org in October.

A former teacher and principal, Spring, 59, was hand-picked by First Deputy Chancellor Cheryl Watson-Harris for the role, with the Carranza’s support.

“The chancellor is familiar with the practice of meditation and mindfulness,” Spring told Mindful.org. “They understand the cost-effectiveness of this, almost as a preventive health-care initiative.”

Spring’s salary is $183,781, but he collected $194,947 last year as a principal on special assignment.

One of the first steps Spring took as mindfulness director was to forge a partnership with the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which Forbes in November named among “the best meditation retreats in the world.”

Spring helped arrange for top DOE administrators, including principals, managers, superintendents and deputies, to undergo “leadership resiliency training” at the Berkshires retreat.

Surrounded by 100 leafy acres, Kripalu sits on a hilltop with beautiful views of woodlands, valleys and Lake Mahkeenac. The center offers classes as well as massages and facials, overnight accommodations and a cafe featuring salads and a “Buddha Bar” with legumes, grains and vegetables.

“At the beginning, we believed this was an opportunity for our superintendents and our executive superintendents to learn a little bit more about yoga and mindfulness for themselves,” Spring said.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a yoga practitioner and ally of Watson-Harris, awarded the DOE a $111,000 grant in April 2019 to train Brooklyn educators in yoga and mindfulness.

The DOE said it spent $57,075 from that grant to send 30 administrators to Kripalu at a cost of $1,900 each. Kripalu offered free classes to 480 other staffers, officials said.

City comptroller records show DOE schools spent $101,000 at the Kripalu Center in the 2018-19 school year and $18,000 this school year.

The DOE has since launched the Yoga & Mindfulness Teacher Preparation Program, touting it as the nation’s first certified yoga and mindfulness school. The DOE did not say how many teachers have taken courses so far.

Kimberly Watkins, president of the parent advisory Community Education Council 3, which covers the Upper West Side and south Harlem, said she never heard of Spring or his title.

“I didn’t know there was such a person. It’s crazy,” she said. “I do not support the expenses related to executives exploring mindfulness at this time. That’s a luxury. We should not be spending money on yoga when we know our schools are going to be more underfunded than they already were.”

The introduction of yoga and meditation in city schools gained popularity under former Chancellor Carmen Fariña who agreed that stretching exercises and quiet reflection could reduce stress and help kids focus.

Spring was an actor before becoming an educator. In 1994, he wrote and starred in a one-act play based on his experiences from age 10 to 18 living at Father Flanagan’s Boy’s Town, the Nebraska home for abused and neglected children made famous by the 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.

After teaching about six years, Spring became a principal in Manhattan and Brooklyn transfer schools for failing students, but was finally put in a pool of “excessed” administrators without permanent jobs. He was sent to work in a Brooklyn field office, where Watson-Harris was in charge before she became Carranza’s second in command. They hit it off, sources said.

Spring’s position was not advertised, and his appointment was not publicly announced. While the DOE has an Office of Wellness, which covers phys-ed and health programs, Spring remains in the first deputy chancellor’s office. He did not return a call for comment.


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