ED. Magazine

5 Reasons to Know: Shimon Waronker, First-Year Doctoral Student

By Lory Hough

shimon_waronker.jpgGangs controlled the hallways. The middle school had gone through six principals in two years, the last staying less than two months. Neighbors locked their doors as soon as the end-of-day bell rang. When walked into J.H.S. 022 Jordan L. Mott in the South Bronx, N.Y., in November 2004 to become its seventh principal in two years, he had a lot of reasons to be worried. Instead, he was determined — determined to take back the school, starting with the gangs. A member of the Chabad- Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Jadaism, Waronker didn’t look the part of a renegade, but by the time he left in June 2008, the school had done a 180. It was no longer on the city’s most dangerous list. Attendance was above 90 percent for the first time in years. Students took etiquette training. Now in the , Waronker wants to see if he can bring this success — success he attributes to the students, teachers, and parents — to the district level.

1. Despite the danger, he knew he had to take the job. “At first I thought, I might not survive this. Forget career — physically I may not survive. But that community was suffering. I didn’t want to give up on those kids.”

2. During his tenure, he let go of nearly half the teaching staff. “It’s a crime that students have to be with a teacher who is not helping. The job of a principal is to help teachers help students or help those teachers find different careers.”

3. Born to a Chilean mother and American father, he grew up in South America and won over students by speaking to them in Spanish.

4. A ROTC graduate who studied tactical intelligence, he applied counterinsurgency strategies to squelch gang activity. He invited gang leaders to join the newly created student congress. He went room to room, talking to students about the evils of gangs. Gang leaders who didn’t join were sent to other schools. “After that, the students saw that the principal had authority. If I could take out the gang leaders, I wasn’t afraid.”

5. This father of six says that, over time, the school developed a singleminded belief that students should feel loved and respected. “It goes back to what the purpose of education is: to make this a better world. You do that by looking out for number two. Not number one.

photo by Martha Stewart

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  • Danny

    I found Shimon Waronker to be a strong man of noble character. He has shown that belief in people and their inherent ability can really affect the person’s life.

  • Kenloy Henry

    Mr. Waronker was my Junior High School Spanish teacher

  • Millie

    Why did Mr. Waronker leave after such a turn around of the school?

  • Gilg P.

    oh wow this is crazy… he went a long way.. and he was one of the best spanish teachers that i ever had,, JHS ps 161 crown school

  • Mblonkanjay

    Shimon and I studied together at Harvard as classmates; he is truly strongwilled.

  • Estaliajudi

    wow mr. waronker is really amazing

  • Yunus

    i wish i have the opportunity to join Harvard’s community soon …Challenge and being determined are the key to change other s lives …..Mr.Shimon story is really inspiring ….

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