After serving seven years as principal of Martin Van Buren High School Queens Village, Sam Sochet said his final goodbye to teachers, staff members and students on Aug. 30 when he officially retired.
Sochet, who became principal of Van Buren in July 2012, vowed to revive the struggling school that was in danger of a state-imposed takeover. Following its removal in December 2017 from the list of schools to be shuttered by the New York City Department of Education, Sochet credited the teachers, staff and community, which he says was a team effort to transform Van Buren.
“The school was really struggling and I was given a window in which to show some improvement so that they didn’t either shut the school down or strip the school,” said Sochet, who has been a New York City educator for 31 years. “I focused on three blocks: community, culture and learning/teaching during the first couple of years. Teachers face a very difficult task these days and our teachers rose to the occasion and that’s why we succeeded. They’re to be commended for it.”
The new Martin Van Buren consists of a DNA Lab for students to conduct Science research at the highest level, an affiliation with the space agency NASA, partnerships with law firms and a brand new courtroom to support its law program (that’s still under partial construction), and a new medical examining room for its health careers program, according to Sochet.
Under Sochet, the school’s dwindling graduation rate of 46 percent back then increased to 80 percent this past year, he said.
“We’re not a subpar school anymore. We’re a strong improved school,” Sochet said. “It took a long time to get all of these things in place and when I saw it coming into place, I said ‘you know what, it’s time.’”
While Sochet attended graduate school at Colorado State University as a researcher studying plant disease, he was also teaching college students — a profession he enjoyed and decided to pursue a career path as an educator.
During his final year as principal of Van Buren, Sochet received the High School Principals’ Association’s Leadership and Excellence in Education Award in June.
“It was humbling because I was so surprised by it, but very pleased because not only did I get recognition, but so did the school,” Sochet said. “It was good for me personally, but it was also good for the school and the community deserves something like that too. There’s a new MVB and people should start to understand that and accept it — let’s move away from that past perception. It was time for MVB to recognized also, not just me.”
Sochet also received proclamations from City Councilman Barry Grodenchik and State Assemblyman David Weprin for his contributions to the community.
“I never looked at it as me doing it all. You have to have a team,” Sochet said. “I was the leader but I really depended on a lot of people to do good work with the leadership group, kids, the families. There were a lot of people that supported the turnaround.”
Though his transition to retirement occurred in June, Sochet decided to stay throughout the summer until Aug. 30 — a strange day for him packing up his belongings and heading home.
Now in retirement, Sochet says he’s “just chillin.”
“I’m trying to act like my students when they’re taking it easy,” Sochet said. “I loved being with students, saying hi to teachers and seeing how they’re doing. With my APs, the kids, the safety agents, janitors…it’s a whole family and it’s not easy leaving that behind.”