When the Bronx Academy of Letters opened its doors as a high school in September 2003, our founders – a dedicated team of students, parents, teachers, and community leaders – were united by a single idea: students who can express themselves clearly in writing can do better in any path they choose in life.
Today, our rigorous, college-preparatory academic program spans grades six through twelve. Our core curriculum is standards-based, with an intense focus on developing strong communication skills across disciplines. It includes honors and AP courses, master-level arts electives, externships, and independent study courses.
Our work has won wide-ranging recognition: we were included in U.S. News and World Report’s “Nation’s Best High Schools” list, named one of Inside Schools.org’s NYC’s Best Public High Schools, and have consistently earned strong “A” ratings on NYC’s school report card. Perhaps most important, though, are the values that lie at the core of our mission to create a school community where every individual will be successful. We cherish these values – vision, expression, tenacity, inquiry, integrity, and compassion – and work to instill them in each other every minute of every day.
The Bronx Academy of Letters’ vision and mission began after principal Joan Sullivan and Richard Kahan, president of the Urban Assembly, resolved to embark on a joint project. The Urban Assembly is a not-for-profit community-development organization that seeks to address a wide range of urban problems by bringing together community members, public- and private-sector professionals, and elected officials who share a common vision of a better future. In recent years, the Urban Assembly has turned to guiding the formation of innovative, theme-based public high schools in New York City. In 1997, it created the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice; in 2002, it created the Academy for Careers in Sports; and in the fall of 2003, the Harbor School, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, opened its doors along with the Bronx Academy of Letters. Five more new Urban Assembly schools opened in September 2004 and 2005. Starting a new school is an emormous task, and all of these schools’ leaders are in frequent contact, creating a supportive, collaborative network that shares ideas and experiences for the benefit of all.
From the outset, the Urban Assembly has shared ownership in the design of the Bronx Academy of Letters. It has assisted in the development of the school’s philosophy and curriculum. It has recruited potential partners, set up meetings to discuss these partnerships, and introduced the planning team to educational experts. The planning team will be drawing on the experience of the Urban Assembly when it matches individual, neighborhood, and community-partner assets with school needs. As the school’s fiscal conduit and as a partner with tremendous experience with New Visions schools, the Urban Assembly will have a strong voice at all planning-team, advisory-board, and appropriations meetings. The Urban Assembly is devoted to making the Bronx Academy of Letters a success.
Joan Sullivan (Founding Principal)
Joan Sullivan has been actively involved in school reform for the last decade. She is a founding member of the Urban Assembly, a nonprofit at the forefront of new school development in New York City. She was selected to serve on an advisory council tasked with crafting citywide high school reform policies for Chancellor Klein and developed her own school-based leadership program to recruit and train new school leaders. A frequent speaker on school innovation, Sullivan has advised principals on establishing school leadership structures, creating advisory boards, and designing curriculum. She is the principal and founder of the Bronx Academy of Letters High School (2003) and Middle School (2007). The extraordinary success of the Bronx Academy of Letters, which provides a college-bound education to students in America's poorest congressional district, has been widely recognized by New York City's Department of Education as well as the by the larger public. Her schools have outperformed peer schools in every category of city performance metrics including by as much as 200% and the high school was selected by The US News & World Report as one of America's Best in 2009. As a principal, she raised $5 million in public and private grants and was profiled as an exemplary school leader in The New York Times and on National Public Radio. Before becoming a principal, Sullivan was a teacher, and before working in public education, she worked on Bill Bradley's 2000 presidential campaign. She documented her experiences working in national politics in a book entitled An American Voter, published in 2002 to critical acclaim from George Stephanopoulos and Bob Kerrey. Prior to working for Bradley, she worked for the Civilian Complaint Review Board, New York City's first independent mayoral agency charged with investigating police misconduct. She graduated from Yale College with a B.A. in American Studies in 1995, where she earned All-American honors in lacrosse. She grew up on a farm just outside of Trenton, New Jersey and is the youngest of ten children.
Anna Hall (Founding Teacher and Current Principal)
Anna Hall joined the Letters team in 2003, before the school had lockers, computers, books, or students. During her first three years at BAL, she taught writing, served as grade leader, UFT chair, and hiring coordinator, and advised the inimitable DGX. In 2007, when Letters was ready to grow again, Anna led the planning team for the middle school expansion and became the school’s first assistant principal. In 2010, when our founding principal Joan Sullivan became LA’s Deputy Mayor of Education, Anna became the principal. If pressed, she will confess that in a long-ago, pre-Letters life, she had a series of interesting but unrelated jobs - speechwriter, product manager, research analyst – but that none were as satisfying as teaching. About a thousand years ago, she studied literature at the University of South Carolina Honors College and the University of Kent at Canterbury, where she was awarded the 1996 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. Some time later, she earned a masters degree in teaching from Fordham University as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program and administrative certification from the New York City Leadership Academy.
Mike Jackson (Co-Founder & Advisory Board Chair)
Mike Jackson, a co-founder of the Bronx Academy of Letters, is the Current Chair of the School's Advisory Board and its Governance Committee. Mr. Jackson is a Director in the Investment Management Group at Brookfield Invesment Management in New York. Prior to joining Brookfield, Mr. Jackson held positions at West LB, JP Morgan Chase, and Prudential Securities. Mr. Jackson is also a member of the Board of Trustees for the Williston-Northampton School, and has served on boards for several non-profit organizations, including the Harlem Youth Development Foundation, an organization that provides financial assistance, emotional support, and career-building employment opportunities to college-bound students from the Harlem community. Mr. Jackson is a 1994 graduate of Yale University, where he lettered in Varsity Track & Field.
Richard Kahan (Collaborating Partner)
Richard Kahan has spent 35 years solving urban problems by fostering partnerships between the public and private sectors. In addition to founding the Urban Assembly, he co-founded in 2000 Take the Field, a nonprofit organization that in four years rebuilt 43 public school outdoor athletic facilities in all five boroughs at a cost of more than $132 million. As President and CEO of the New York State Urban Development Corporation, Richard initiated a $3 billion statewide economic development program that preserved and created more than 100,000 jobs. As Chairman and CEO of Battery Park City Authority, he was responsible for the planning, design, and development of Battery Park City, the largest urban development in the United States at the time. During this period he was also President and CEO of the New York Convention Center Development Corporation, creating the authorizing legislation and directing the design, financing, and construction of the $375 million Javits Center.
Richard has been honored with many awards, including the Mayor's Doris C. Freedman Award, the Rockefeller Foundation's Jane Jacobs Medal, the American Society of Landscape Architects' Education Award, the American Institute of Architects' Thomas Jefferson Award, the Robert Moses Achievement Award, the Minority Business Development Award, and the Citizens Union's Robert F. Wagner Award.
Jenny McPhee is a founding Board member of the Bronx Academy of Letters Advisory Board, currently serving on its Internal Affairs Committee. She is the author of the novels The Center of Things, No Ordinary Matter, and A Man of No Moon. She is the co-author with Martha and Laura McPhee of Girls: Ordinary Girls and Their Extraordinary Pursuits. She is a translator and curates the film program at the Italian Academy for Advanced Study at Columbia University.
Toni Bernstein, a graduate of Tufts University is currently a full time wife, mother of three children and active volunteer in support of the Bronx Academy of Letters. Toni is a founding member of the school's Advisory Board, and in addition to her responsibilities as Board President, Toni serves as the Chair of the Benefit Committee and a member of the Executive and Development Committees. Toni is also a member of a 10th grade advisory at the school which she tries to visit monthly. Toni also works on various committees at the schools her children attend and sits on the divisional board of the Ittleson Center, a residential treatment facility for emotionally ill children also located in the Bronx.
Will Georgantas was the founding Program Coordinator of the Bronx Academy of Letters. Will received a B.A. in English from Yale University and his MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University. His diverse publishing experience includes work as a newspaper reporter, book-series editor, freelance writer, songwriter, and, most recently, as a freelance copy editor. He was a 1999 MacDowell Colony fellow. Will joined the Advisory Board in 2006 and is currently a member of the Executive and Benefit Committees.
Founding Teachers & Staff (2003)
Nicholas Cox (History)
Anna Hall (Writing)
Steven Laufer (Science)
Sarah Leistikow (History)
Ray Miles (Math)
Sendhil Revuluri (Math)
Evelyn Diaz (School Secretary)
Original Planning Team and Founding Board Members (2003-4)