Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Life

Using ‘Counterinsurgency’ Tactics, Hasidic Principal Restores Order to Troubled South Bronx School

The heroic educator who swoops in and rescues students at a troubled inner-city school is a favorite Hollywood trope: Think Jim Belushi in “The Principal,” Michelle Pfeiffer in “Dangerous Minds,” Edward James Olmos in “Stand and Deliver,” Morgan Freeman in “Lean on Me,” etc.

This Friday’s New York Times featured a real-life story that is, as a colleague of mine pointed out, stranger than fiction.

Four years ago, Junior High School 22 in the South Bronx was an utter mess. There was anarchy in the hallways. In some classes, few students bothered to show up. The school was classified as one of New York City’s dozen most dangerous. It had gone through six principals in two years.

Then along came Shimon Waronker, a member of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect. Despite concerns that a Hasidic principal would be a mismatch for a largely black and Hispanic school, Waronker has quickly proven his doubters wrong.

Waronker, it turns out, brought an unusual background to the job — and not only because he is a Hasidic Jew. Waronker is also a native Spanish-speaker (which impressed Hispanic students) and had served as an officer in the U.S. Army. He drew heavily upon his military background in restoring order to the troubled school.

The Times reports:

He focused relentlessly on hallway patrols, labeling one rowdy passageway the “fall of Saigon.” In an effort to eliminate gang colors, he instituted a student uniform policy.

He even tried to send home the students who flouted it, a violation of city policy that drew television news cameras. In his first year, he suspended so many students that a deputy chancellor whispered in his ear, “You’d better cool it.”

And:

The principal enlisted teachers in an effort to “take back the hallways” from students who seemed to have no fear of authority. He enlisted the students, too, by creating a democratically elected student congress.

“It’s just textbook counterinsurgency,” he said. “The first thing you have to do is you have to invite the insurgents into the government.” He added, “I wanted to have influence over the popular kids.”

Along with restoring order, Waronker has challenged students — and teachers — to aim higher. He’s launched programs in leadership and etiquette, and started a dual-language French program.

His efforts have paid dividends. The Times reports that “test scores have risen enough to earn J.H.S. 22 an A on its new school report card.”

Back in Crown Heights, Waronker told the Times, some of his Hasidic neighbors ask him why he doesn’t devote his talents to a yeshiva instead. Well, now that the Times has taken notice of Waronker’s work, some of his fellow Lubavitchers are kvelling.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.