Report: Frum Principal’s New School Idea


shimon-waronkerThe New York Post reports: To most educators, 60 elementary-school kids in one classroom would sound like a nightmare. To founding New American Academy Principal Shimon Waronker, it’s the new way forward.Waronker, a Spanish-speaking Hasidic Jew who earned his stripes turning around one of the city’s most violent middle schools in The Bronx, will open a trilingual elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in September. The kids will all graduate fluent in Spanish and French, in addition to English.

The innovative public school will put 60 kids in a classroom with four teachers, who will stay with those same students from kindergarten all the way through fifth grade.

The students will sit around oval tables in giant 1,200-square-foot rooms.

Waronker, who hopes to open as many as 50 replications of the school by 2012 if the model takes off, believes the unusual set-up will help build deep relationships among teachers and students and will allow instructors to target their lessons to kids’ specific learning styles.

He’s also introducing student-initiated learning — in which kids help decide the subject matter of each course. The method is the hallmark of elite private schools like Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, whose principal collaborated on the venture.

“The model of teaching and learning that he’s proposing is a very different model from the one that I think has the most currency right now,” said Dr. Richard Elmore, Waronker’s adviser on the project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

“It’s one that empowers kids to be active agents in their own learning.”

The New American Academy will also be the first school in the city to introduce what’s known as a “career ladder” for teachers, where promotion from one title to the next is based on merit, not length of service.

It’s a departure for the United Federation of Teachers, which has generally opposed merit-based pay scales but which has been an active member of the school’s planning committee.

Although city Department of Education officials said they were still hammering out the contract details, an agreement would mean that the four teachers would be earning different salaries, ranging from a first- or second-year “apprentice,” who averages $50,000 a year, to a “master,” who makes up to $120,000.

“This is an entirely different structure,” said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

“Here you’ve got basically four [career] levels and an ability to really leverage the talent of your top people and to develop the people coming after them.”

Among the major themes students will learn at the academy — where kids will granted admission by lottery — are keyboarding in kindergarten, computer programming in first grade, as well as how plumbing, electricity, refrigeration and motors work in the later grades.

{NY Post/ Newscenter}


  1. This sounds similar to something that was attempted in the 70’s called open classrooms. It’s challenging to concentrate with so many other kids around, and can lead to headaches.

  2. Sounds fascinating, particularly in Crown Heights, where some forward-thinking individual is sorely needed to improve the education system. No doubt, the students and eventually the community will reap the rewards.

    Best of luck!