It would be easy to see Kristin Kearns Jordan making a name for
herself at a high-powered law firm or a dotcom venture.
But you won't find this Ivy League-educated entrepreneur
commuting each day to a brand-name address. Instead, she puts in
long hours at a church rectory in the South Bronx, amid well-worn
desks and classrooms with white walls. It's there, in the fall, that
she'll open and direct the Bronx Preparatory Charter School, one of
a handful of new public charter schools in New York City, and one
that makes its home in a district where only about a quarter of
students perform at grade level.
What's even more eye-catching is her role model: Phillips Exeter
Academy in Exeter, N.H., Ms. Jordan's alma mater and one of the most
competitive preparatory schools in the United States.
But Jordan notes that New York state law requires her to accept
all students who apply through a lottery-style drawing.
"We're not an exclusive prep school," she says.
The unlikely match of someone of Jordan's background with a
career in a troubled school system is exactly what policymakers
hoped for with the creation of charter schools.
Though just getting under way in New York, they have operated for
a number of years in many states, offering families publicly funded
schools that take a different approach to everything from course
selection to the length of the school day. They have met with
opposition from those who dislike the fact that they operate with
less oversight than regular public schools, and take a share of
public school funding.
Yet the idea was to lure energetic innovators into the public
school arena by putting aside some more-onerous regulations and
opening the door to change.
In Jordan's case, it appears to have worked. She is pouring her
energies into everything from choosing uniforms to worrying about
distribution mechanisms and looking through stacks of rsums as she
anticipates the school's opening in the fall. But despite the
challenges, she says she's found "the perfect job."
But what Jordan has taken on will be anything but easy. Bronx
Prep will begin with 100 fifth- and sixth-grade students, adding one
grade a year until the school grows to accommodate Grades 5 to 12.
The group will be located in a set of sparsely furnished classrooms
in the rectory of Our Lady of Victory church.
Students will receive 50 percent more instructional time than
children in a traditional public school. Classes at Bronx Prep will
run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and some will take a seminar-style
approach, something Jordan is borrowing from Exeter. The school will
have a 210-day calendar year. Most students will report for school
in mid-August, but those who test below a certain level will be
required to attend a special four-week session in July.
Jordan knows this will be a big change for many of the families
interested in sending their children to the school. "Take a deep
breath and get used to it," she tells a group of parents who have
assembled one afternoon to learn about her school. "We'll all be
working hard, harder than we ever have before." The academic program
at Bronx Prep will be highly challenging, she reiterates.
But her audience is unfazed. "That's OK, it's worth it," murmurs
The school's curriculum will be somewhat eclectic, an amalgam of
all that Jordan believes works best in education. She says she loves
the educational tradition she herself came out of at Exeter, which
she describes as "the best of progressive tradition with a focus on
That's why the program at Bronx Prep will be largely standards-
driven, but will take detours for special pursuits like use of the
Junior Great Books curriculum. In order to hammer on basics,
students will have two periods of math and English every day.
Jordan says she opted for the Sadlier math program, after sitting
next to someone at a conference who mentioned that he had been
impressed by the math skills of students using that method. …