Longtime neighborhood principal has retired

After close to half a century as an educator, Dr. Alice B. Farkouh, most recently the head of A. Fantis School, has retired.

Farkouh – who also served as principal of Fort Hamilton High School – exemplified the can-do attitude so necessary in teaching.

That began when she was a very young child.

Growing up, Farkouh once told a teacher, “I can’t do it.”

The teacher had her write “Can’t” on paper, dig a hole and bury it. She completely changed.

“Whatever class I teach or whenever I mentor the teachers,” said Farkouh, “I tell them, ‘Never say you can’t do something.’ By you saying you can’t do something, you can’t do it.”
She moved between her hometown of Neon, Kentucky and Bay Ridge twice, settling the second time at 157 83rd Street, near Fort Hamilton High School. She wanted to teach, playing “school” on the staircase.

She graduated Fort Hamilton in 1957 and obtained her BA in Mathematics at New York University. She also married and had three children.

Back then, substitute/full-time teachers got a free Master’s degree in the City University system. Working at Port Richmond High School as a math teacher, Farkouh obtained her MS in Mathematics Education at Richmond College (now CSI) and received her Educational Administration Doctorate at Columbia University Teacher’s College, encouraged by Port Richmond Principal Herbert Balish, her supervisor.

“He said, ‘Alice, you have it, you’re gonna flaunt it!’” said Farkouh. “I used that with all of my teachers in my career. When they’re good, I encourage them to go up the career ladder.”

A career highlight was being Fort Hamilton principal from 1989-1999.

“They were going to make Fort Hamilton a trade school,” she said. “This was the school that I adored. I said, ‘No, we’re going to do something different.’ The faculty was excellent and if [they weren’t] excellent, I vacated them.”

She redesigned the Honors Academy Program, supervised the building of the school’s swimming pool, and formed a football team, hiring Coach Vince Laino, who helped bring attention to Fort Hamilton.

She became principal at A. Fantis Parochial School – a downtown Brooklyn elementary school – in March 2006. She fought for Universal Pre-K with help from Bay Ridge elected officials, and opened two required eighth grade high school classes, with 100 percent passing every math Regents exam and later the same in Earth Science.

Farkouh – of Greek, Lebanese and Syrian descent – penned a 2011 memoir, Never Say You Can’t. She might write a second book on motivation and mathematics teaching.

“A good 75-80 percent of children who don’t do well in mathematics have a lot to do with the teacher in the classroom. We have to help the teacher in the classroom,” Farkouh said. “We can’t blame them. They came through with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree. We’re going to say they’re stupid people?”

Farkouh spent eight years at A. Fantis, finishing a 46-year academic career.

To mark the occasion, a large farewell bash was held on November 15 at Rex Manor, where students, parents and peers feted the lifelong educator.

“A. Fantis is truly a school of excellence,” said Farkouh. “I brought that up with the help of the teachers and they honored me with the St. Paul’s medal, the highest award given to a layperson. They were very good to me. I didn’t want to retire, but I guess it was time.”

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Arthur de Gaeta
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photos by Arthur de Gaeta

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.