EAST WILLIAMSBURG — Seven years after Jason Griffiths founded the specialized institution with only 60 students, Brooklyn Latin has ranked as the state's top public high school by U.S. News and World Report, has acquired a new building, and has grown to 10 times its initial size.
But now, Griffiths is leaving to run a charter school in Harlem — because, he said, the city's bureaucratic requirements were wasting his work time and stripping him of the ability to effectively run his school.
"Over time I wasn't able to lead the school in the way I wanted," said Griffiths, noting that he was often stuck in full-day meetings with the Department of Education over the city's new Common Core standards, which he said Brooklyn Latin's curriculum already met and exceeded. "We're working 12-hour and 16-hour days, and if you're taking a full day out of a week [for a meeting] that's a lot of time...It had a detrimental effect on me personally, on my ability to connect with teachers and with students."
Griffiths, who pioneered the rigorous International Baccalaureate academic program at Brooklyn Latin, said the city also frequently delayed paying the required fees to the nonprofit IB organization that sanctions schools' participation in the curriculum.
"I once thought I wanted to be involved in policy, and I don't anymore," admitted Griffiths, claiming that "all the bureaucratic checks and balances" of the city's public school system prolonged "getting essential items paid for."
Now Griffiths, who created the public school as a traditional institution with uniforms and Latin taught all four years, hopes to have real autonomy as the principal of Harlem Village Academy Charter School, since the same procedures for public schools do not apply.
"I know this is going to be a lot of work but I'll have a lot more control," he said of decisions from scheduling to budgeting. "And if we have failures we'll have the opportunity to fix them or they'll be my fault."
When he starts the International Baccalaureate program at Harlem Village Academy, for example, Griffiths said the charter would directly pay the fees rather than having to wait for the city.
"The mission and vision are closely aligned with Brooklyn Latin," he said of Harlem Village's liberal arts focus, traditional culture and small size. "I have plans to eventually offer Latin if I can find the right person to start a Latin program."
A spokesman for the Department of Education declined to comment on the specifics of Griffiths' reasons for leaving Brooklyn Latin but said the school would continue to thrive.
"Brooklyn Latin has had enormous success in the past," the spokesman said, "and it will continue to be an outstanding school going forward."
Griffiths — who lives in Williamsburg and whose wife is pregnant with their first child — will have to adjust to a 45-minute commute, but he'll have the perks of a higher salary and a chance to steer Harlem Village from a "good school" to a "great school," he said.
"I'm really sad. I'm devastated," he said of leaving Brooklyn Latin's community. "But in the past I said I could stay there for 30 years...or I could leave if I got a really enticing offer. That's what happened."