How I got here: Miriam Lazar

Lazar is the founder and principal of a college preparatory school focused on educating underserved populations.

Miriam Lazar is the Founder and Principal of Archimedes Academy for Math, Science and Technology Applications.

Samantha Lazar

Miriam Lazar is the Founder and Principal of Archimedes Academy for Math, Science and Technology Applications.

Miriam Lazar is the founder and principal of Archimedes Academy for Math, Science, and Technology Applications, a college preparatory school located in the Bronx, N.Y. and focused on educating underserved populations. With its concentration in math and science, and its integration of technology into all subjects, the school seeks to provide a challenging and innovative education that will enable students to succeed in today’s digital society. 

Samantha Lazar: How would you describe what you do currently? 

Miriam Lazar: I am currently the principal of a school in the Bronx, N.Y. that has 600 students and serves grades 6 to 12. As the principal, I am the instructional leader and decision-maker of the school, and am responsible for supervising the teachers and staff and making sure that everything runs smoothly on a day to day basis. 

Read next:  How I got here: Mark Penn

SL: When did you first become interested in becoming an educator? 

ML: I’ve always loved math, science, and technology ever since I was in elementary school and that’s never left me.  After college, I had an opportunity to do an accelerated program to teach, which I loved. I taught out in California for a year, and then I came back to New York City to teach at Stuyvesant High School, my alma mater. I’m good at explaining things to people and breaking down difficult concepts in different ways. People are usually scared of chemistry and physics so I love making it not scary. 

SL: How did you decide to create your own school and how did you get the funding for it? 

ML: Being a principal was not originally on my to-do list. After having been a Math teacher, and then a K-12 Director of Math and Science, I served as a district-wide superintendent supporting curriculum and instruction in New York City. By serving at the district level in the city, I was able to see that there was a unique opportunity at a critical time in NYC history. 

New York City at the time was in a place where it was phasing out very large, comprehensive high schools and middle schools with thousands of students and reopening multiple smaller schools in their place. The big schools weren’t doing what they needed to do, and it was felt that the structure of smaller schools would provide a more personalized approach. During that time, there were opportunities to create and design these smaller schools from scratch, and I thought that was too much of a good thing to pass up. So I put together a proposal and applied to the Gates Foundation for a grant for four hundred thousand dollars. 

I competed for the grant against 120 others and won the chance to start the school. Our school is not a private school or a charter school. It’s a New York City “choice” public school, meaning that students choose to come to our school instead of going somewhere else. The school opened with one hundred sixth graders in 2007 and grew one grade a year until we graduated our first 12th grade, seven years later. We are now in our fourteenth year.

SL: If a student would like to follow in your footsteps, what should they focus on now in high school? 

ML: If you’re thinking about teaching, ask yourself: what’s your favorite subject? What are you really good at and would like to share your passion with others. If your high school offers electives in your chosen subject, then take as many of those as you can. I knew science was my passion so whether I was going to be a doctor, or a teacher, I knew my career would be around science. I took lots of science courses and learned whatever I could get my hands on, because that was my thing.  

SL: Who were influential people in your life growing up? 

ML: My dad had the biggest impact on me. When I was in the fourth grade, I asked him for help with my fractions homework. He showed me how different methods can work to get the same answer and why. From that point on, that’s always how I have learned. It’s the ability to think through problems and persevere that has allowed me to do pretty much anything. 

Read next:  College overview: Syracuse University

SL: How did you develop leadership skills? 

ML: I would say there are a few ways. First, I observed people I worked with when I was younger and they were my role models. Then also there are those I worked with whom I didn’t want to be like, and they taught me what not to do. Then, during the course of my education (including a master’s degree in teaching and a professional diploma in administration and supervision), I took courses in leadership where I learned about different styles of leadership. 

SL: What do you consider to be the biggest accomplishments in your career? 

ML: While I was a teacher, I was able to write a Physics review book called the Barron’s Lets’ Review Physics book. It helps prepare high school students for the Regents Physics Exam. We’re in the fifth edition now and every few years I am responsible for updating it to reflect what New York State covers for Physics. Also starting my own school from scratch, and being successful, is something I’m proud of. One of my favorite programs at the school that has been very successful is our advisory program. Since I love Harry Potter, we divided the school into four houses, each with an advisor that follows the students from 6th to 12th grade. When the students move to the next grade each year, their advisor continues with them, so the teacher-student bond gets stronger every year. This has been especially helpful when the students reach the 12th grade and their advisor is helping them plan their future.

SL: During this pandemic what would you say you find most challenging and how do you handle the stress? 

ML: Due to Covid-19 this year, about 80% of our population is remote and only 20% is in person so every teacher is teaching to students via a computer screen. As a result, we lost a lot of the connections and familiarity that everybody had made last year. That’s been a challenge. Part of who we are, as with the Harry Potter houses, is that we have really good relationships between our faculty and our students. Last year, we had connections with everybody to bring them in and keep them engaged, but when we started off this year remotely, we didn’t have a chance to make the connections because most people were home. So it’s been much more difficult to build those relationships with students because some teachers and students have never met. So that’s been really difficult.