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Department: Politics

Sternberg Politics

Marc Sternberg ’95

Principal, Bronx Lab School

A passion for politics

I was a politics major at Princeton. For as long as I can remember I have been keenly interested in understanding how groups organize and mobilize to initiate and accelerate change. My passion for this work is informed by two personal experiences. First, as a Southerner growing up in the post-Brown South (born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana), I had an insatiable appetite for knowledge about the modern civil rights movement. I needed to understand how against all odds the largely indigent and disempowered African American community changed the face of America.

Then, between my first and second years at Princeton, I landed a summer internship in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide at the Religious Action Center, a political action group representing the progressive Jewish movement on Capitol Hill. It was President Clinton’s first summer in office. In a time of national renewal the work could not have been more inspiring. I returned to Princeton determined to pursue a path that would prepare me to have an impact on the policy discussion. This path led directly to the study of politics, which became for me a study of leadership and social movements.

The cornerstone of my academic experience at Princeton was my senior thesis. I wrote about the 1953 Baton Rouge bus boycott, a forgotten footnote of the civil rights movement that informed organizing strategies in later years of the civil rights movement, most notably in the well-known Montgomery bus boycott. Ultimately, the Baton Rouge boycott fell well short of what King and Parks accomplished just a few months later. Their accomplishments, however, are best understood in the context of movement strategy and leadership over the preceding decades of the struggle.

A career in school reform

I am the founding principal of the Bronx Lab School, a small, new college preparatory school that serves 400 high school students from across New York City. Founded in 2004, the school will graduate its first class in June 2008.

After graduating from Princeton in 1995, I served as a Teach for America corps member at Community School 66 in the South Bronx, where I taught for three years. I then earned a joint MBA and master’s in education from Harvard University, after which I returned to New York City to continue my work in school reform.

I recall my final piece of writing at Princeton. In the weeks before graduation, having just completed my senior thesis, I was asked to examine the tensions between individual leadership and historical moment in shaping the direction and outcomes of social movements. The answer seems as elusive today as it did 12 years ago, but every bit as pertinent. In fact this is a question that I consider daily in my work as a principal in the Bronx.

It has been said that the work to level the playing field in public education is the new frontier of the civil rights movement. This idea has informed my path as a public servant since graduating from Princeton. My passion to lead has been informed by my study at Princeton of leadership and social movement development. In some small way, in building the Bronx Lab School as a place of educational excellence for an often overlooked and underserved community, I feel I am continuing the work started by a band of courageous bus boycotters some 55 years ago.