The Birth of a New School, Bronx, NY:
Ken Baum, Principal Extraordinaire
Ken Baum, principal extraordinaire, started a new public school in September 2004, The Urban Assembly for Applied Math and Science. The school, with 155 uniformed students currently in grades 6 and 7, will be adding a grade a12th grade) is reached. Trained at the NYC Leadership Academy, Baum, learned about leadership, school schedules and school structure, and then shadowed a principal in the Bronx for one year. Support, provided by Urban Assembly, the umbrella organization that runs 16 other schools, includes shared practices, writing a budget, and staffing needs. Baum credits Richard Kahn, president of Urban Assembly for his vision and partnership in founding this school.
For a school whose central theme is math, Baum is the perfect administrator, having completed an MA in math and all of the doctoral work as well. Carefully chosen teachers such as Jennifer Applebaum, Barnard College ’05, expertly deliver math and science skills to the 6th graders. One of the best features of this school, she stated, was the small class size of 19-20 students as compared with the usual 28-33 elsewhere.
Other unique features of the Urban Assembly for Applied Math and Science: In mid-summer, the teachers visit the students. In music class, 20 students sit at individual keyboards all playing silently with earphones on. In an English class I visited, students were reading and annotating a poem and sharing their own compositions with great enthusiasm.
There is a structured advisory program three times per week beginning in 6th grade focusing on team building, issues that children face, how to have a friend. The 7th graders go on field trips to colleges; in 8th grade students go to colleges overnight, then come back and discuss their experiences with other students. Baum started the Bronx borough-wide math competition.
How do you teach the concept of a pulley? That’s easy. Go to the principal’s office and hammer it out with him and the math coach. The salient feature in this school is the teamwork and high spirits among the teachers (Derick Spaulding-math and science, Cheryl Tournoux-math and science, Ralsaan Romain-advisement, Marissa Biondi-school newspaper) all led by a principal who is knowledgeable and cares. His school boasts an attendance rate of 96.6 percent.
“My goal is to have a 95 percent college graduation rate. We want to make our students successful ahead of time so that they don’t drop out,” says Baum. Math Tournaments, math fairs, making strong columns in architecture class, playing a Yamaha keyboard are all part of a wonderful environment for the fortunate children attending.
How does your child get into this academic mecca? In District 9, there is a kids’fair: children list their first and second choices. In District 10, students complete an application. There is no academic screening. English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students are accepted.
“I will never be satisfied until a child that grows up on Gunhill Road [Bronx] has the same opportunity as a child who grows up in Scarsdale,” stated Baum. If anyone can do it, it will be Baum.#