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May 25, 2012

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PAGE 14A i Shaliach for school reform HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 25, 2017 By Julie Wiener New York Jewish Week Shimon Waronker, head- master of Brooklyn's New American Academy, repeats two phrases a lot: "Prussian industrial" and "divine provi- dence." "Prussian industrial" is shorthand for what he sees as the "tyrannical" model--a legacy of King Frederick the Great. Ellwood Cubberly and Horace Mann--that is at the core of America's troubled public school system. And divine providence? That's the explanation this 43-year-old Chilean-born baal teshuvah, U.S. Army vet- eran and father of six gives for everything, from finding a perfect school facility just blocks away from his Crown Heights home, to being taken under the wing of former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, to the fact that "770'--a portentous numeral for Chabad-Lubavitch Jews keeps popping up in his work. Four years ago Waronker, a graduate of Klein's New York City Leadership Academy for new principals, landed on the front page of The New York Times through a mix of personal warmth and counter- insurgency tactics learned in the Army--for turning around the South Bronx's Junior High School 22, one of the most gang-plagued schools in the city. In 2010 he helped open the New American Academy, an innovative public elementary FLORIDA Caring for you in your home or facility part-time or 24 hours 7 days a week. We always provide a C.N.A. Laundry Range of Motion Exercises Companion. Services Light housekeeping Meal prep andctean-up Medication Reminders. Errands & Transportation Alzheimer's & Dementia Care Bathing/Transfe ngtToileting Carl us Y for details... aw.oecQ!p Ho:;Oh 8tae of FL AHCA License #NR 3021t467 State of FL AHCALicene # 231012 Insured and bon0e:l CHAlZ ANDIE JODELLE RAINEY PALHINTERI MACDOWELL FERND QUALLEY. school he designed with class- mates from Harvard's Graduate SchoolofEducation, andwhich he hopes will h.elp launch a revolution in public education, not just locally but nationally. Across from Lincoln Terrace Park, in a spacious, brown- brick, modernist building it shares with another pub- lic elementary school, the New American Academy, also known as P.S. 770, serves an overwhelmingly low-income, African-American student body. Among its unique fea- tures: Each class has 60 students and four teachers who work collaboratively, guided by a master teacher. Children stay with the same group of teachers for six years. Teachers earn salaries that are 38 percent higher than at other Department of Education schools, but pay is determined through a "career ladder" combination of merit and seniority. Teachers assume men- toring and supervisory roles, reducing the need for admin- istrators. "To me it's really impor- tant that we move away from teacher as solo practitioner," Waronker says. "As a team we can help kids more, and for a team to stay with the same children over an extended period of time is beneficial because many children live with a grandmother or aunt or in foster care or a single- parent home. They don't often see adults collaborate for their benefit." Remarkably, given the con- tentiousness of school reform efforts, Waronker has earned the admiration both of union leaders such as RandiWeingar- ten and school reformers like Klein, who is no longer with the Department of Education but still serves as a mentor for Waronker and recently at- tended his son's bar mitzvah. In an interview with The Jewish Week, Klein described the New American Academy as "avery interesting and creative model," adding that he gives Waronker "enormous credit for being innovative, visionary and willing to think very hard and put into practice a whole paradigm." Describing Waronker as a "man of deep moral commit- ment." Klein said, "I don't hear himmaking excuses; Ijusthear him getting the work done." Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and former president of New York's United Federa- .tion of Teachers, told The Jew- ishWeekthatherunion"totally embraced" the New American Academy "because it's about the hows: how we actually increase teacher capacity to do the jobs we're asking them to do for kids, how we create conditions that maximize a learning process for creativ- ity, discovery and inquiry, and howwe do teacher preparation in an ongoing career way that respects teacher professional- ism." Noting that school reform requires "flexibility on all sides, not just the teachers' side," Weingartensays,"People try to put the union and teachers in a box, as ifw.e don't care about ingenuity and creativity. This is an example that shows that myth can't be farther from the truth." R's 8:30 on a Monday morn- ing, and classes won't start in earnest for another hour. Half the students are exer- cising outside with an aide, while the other half are eating breakfast in the cafeteria. The teachers are in the midst of their daily 90-minute planning meetings. Waronker, who has just dis- covered that one of his teachers was married over the weekend, rushes downstairs to con- gratulate her. Smilingwarmly, Waronker pulls up a child-sized chair next to the hi jab-wearing teacher and inquires about Muslim wedding traditions, marveling over similarities to OrthodoxJewishweddings, like no mixed dancing. Once the children settle into the classrooms at 9:30, there will be no time for chat- ting: For most of the day, the students are grouped by skill level--each group is called a "university," with names such as Fordham, Columbia and Howard. Stern but also affectionate, the teachers constantly probe their students to think, and also to be aware of their behav- ior, with reprimands like, "You need to turn it around,""Iwant to see gentlemen, not little, whiny boys," "Check yourself: Am,I in line? Am I quiet? Are my hands'where they're sup- posed to be?" For Waronker, it's important that the children get structu re, but also love and respect. Later that day, when a prospective teacher snaps her fingers at the childrencluring a demo lesson, he cringes. "They're not dogs," he com- plains. Waronker says he seeks out teachers who work well with others and are able to learn from their mistakes. He is big on mistakes, volunteering i long list of things he did wrong in the school's firstyearinclud- ing hiring a master teacher who "didn't know how to collabo- rate," aswell as hiring teachers who' lacked early childhood education backgrounds. "I came with a lot of hubris from middle school," he says. "But I realized kindergarten is the hardest grade to teach. It's the first time a lot of the kids are in school, and they have to be acculturated toan academic environment." While it's too early for 770 to produce testscores, prelimi- nary signs are good: 80 percent of kindergarteners were read- ing at grade level by last Decem- ber, Waronker says, unusual for a Title 1 school. Remarkably, the school manages to operate at a lower cost than other public schools--Waronkersays that's because the model requires fewer administrators and in- tervention specialists. With the money left over, the school can operate an afterschool program that includes martial arts and violin lessons. The ultimate test will be if 770's successes can be repli- cated--or if it can function only under a charismatic principal. Waronker is haunted by the fact that his previous school closed soon after he left; "scalable" may well be his third-most-used phrase after "divine providence" and "Prussian industrial." "I'm very desirous to get another school off the ground so we can show it doesn't just depend on me," he says. How did a Chabadnik Who begins each day with three hours of prayer, Jewish learn- ing and a trip to the mikveh-- andwho sends his own children to yeshivas.become a cham- pion of public school reform? Born Simon Bemardo War- ren, Waronker spent his early years in Chile, Honduras, Uru- guay and Guatemala. His American father, who had changed the family name to sound less recognizably Jewish, worked as a labor organizer, part of a State Department- AFL-CIO partnership aimed at preventing the spread of communism. The family (his mother converted) was Jewish, be- longing to a Reform temple in Guatemala, but not especially observant. When Waronker was 11, his father died, and his Chilean mother moved with Waronker and his two siblings to Rockville, Md. Although he arrived in the United States speaking only Spanish--he still has a slight accent Waronker mastered English and ended up enroll- ing in the honors program at the University of Maryland at College Park at 17. He joined the ROTC at the same time, with the goal ofbe- comingageneral. Never actually deployed to war, he was eager to go to Panama during the 1989 invasion and to Iraq during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. "I wanted glory," he recalls on a recent afternoon, sitting in the spare, undecorated space that doubles as his office and the school's conference room. "But I came to realize, whose glory Was I looking for? Was it my personal glory for vanity's sake, or for something higher?" Searching for meaning, and inspired by his sister's turn to Orthodoxy, Waronker discov- ered a spiritual home and a sense of purposein Chabad. "Was it about just me? Why are we here?" he recalls asking himself. "Judaism has answered that question in a powerful way: to make heaven on earth, to make this a better world. That's what Moshiach [the,Messiah] is about: but we do it, not Moshiach." Waronker credits his time in yeshiva--he attended the Rab-" binical College of America in Morristown, N.J., but is several exams short ofrabbinicordina- tion--with teaching him how to question and learn. "In Judaism, questioning is very healthy," he says. "When you learn Talmud, they'll question everything, and it's wonderful. The Jewish way of thinking is really about questioning underlying as- sumptions." With his brown velvet yar- mulke, dark hair and slightly bushy graying beard,Waronker looks like thousands of other Chabad men his age. However, the idealism and warmth of personality that many of his peers apply to their work as shlichim, emissarieswho travel the world bringing Jews closer to Judaism, Wamnker channels into his work in a primarily non-Jewish environment. But he sees no conflict be- tween his religious identity and his career, which he describes as his "life's calling." "We're all brothers and sisters; we have to help one another out, we need to treat all children equally," he explains. "Once we get to that level, then we'll really be living in the times of Moshiach."