If the past is prologue, then we can expect that Shimon Waronker, innovative principal of M.S. 22 in the South Bronx and of P.S. 770 in Brooklyn, will be bringing more success to the students who will be attending the charter school he is about to open in Brooklyn.
Waronker, who attended Harvard’s Urban Superintendent’s Program, has always been first and foremost interested in changing the school system from the inside, through the district schools.
“I tried to get more district schools – that was always the plan,” Waronker said. “I didn’t go to Harvard to run a boutique school.”
His dream ran into a major obstacle however, from New York’s Office of Labor Relations. Armed with good relations with the United Federation of Teachers and the Department of Education,
Waronker was able to forge a special contract with the teacher’s union that allows his school, The New American Academy, to pay top dollar to his best teachers. At $125,000, that exceeds the ceiling salary at other district schools from between 25 to 38 percent. But if he were to enlarge that contract to more schools a domino effect would be created, triggering demand for equivalent contracts among the city’s other unions. If such salary hikes became widespread, bankruptcy becomes a possibility for the city.
“I realized I’m not going to break through the logjam between the DOE and the UFT,” Waronker said. “That’s when I realized, oh my goodness, we’re going to have to shift gears and go the charter route.”
Therefore the man who has been consistently and passionately devoted to improving district schools is being forced to work his magic through the charter school framework. The New York State Department of Education approved Waronker’s charter last fall. The school is scheduled to begin enrolling new students in an as yet unknown Brooklyn location this coming September.
The reason a charter school is a viable option for Waronker is that, although they do get much of their funding from public coffers, they are also allowed to accept private donations to supplement their budgetary needs.
“I think it’s great to be a bridge between the district world and the charter world, because charters were always supposed to be bringing innovation back into the district world,” said Yehudi Meshchaninov, development director for the charter school.