Message from the President, Soo Kim ’93, on the Baumel Legacy Fund

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Stuyvesant’s move from 345 East 15th to 345 Chambers. My Class of 1993 had the fortunate distinction of having spent three years in the old building and one in the new. We were the first graduating class in the new building.

Frankly, I found the shiny hallways of the new building disorienting. Just when our senior class had finally figured out our favorite positions in Stuy Park and the Auditorium, we were cast into a new environment where we were essentially all freshmen. I missed the Old Stuy.

There was something so authentically New York about the hopelessly outdated “technology” labs and the running track that required something like 40 laps to reach a mile. It was our badge of honor: it made sense for Stuyvesant to be housed in an overcrowded building that was amongst the oldest of NYC high schools. Stuyvesant was defined by its students: selected amongst the top test takers in the city to learn and grow together. Like New York herself, we didn’t need fancy optics to define ourselves as the best.

Abraham “Abe” Baumel was our principal then. I didn’t know him, but I grew up with the misguided notion that the only time you speak to the principal is when you were in trouble, so I spent my time avoiding him and the rest of the administration. Sadly, Abe passed away in 2015, but we in the Alumni Association have been recently spending time catching up on his rich legacy with the help of his grandsons, Matthew Baumel ’09 and Aaron Ghitelman ’09.

Abe Baumel became Stuyvesant’s principal in 1983. He had previously chaired the Physics Department and been a teacher at that other high school in the Bronx. Now for some sacrilegious trivia that many of us may not know: Stuyvesant was not always considered the top public school in NYC. Actually before the school went co-ed in 1969, Stuy was not the consensus choice amongst those choosing between the specialized high schools. For decades, students with the highest test scores regularly chose to attend that other high school in the Bronx.

So with that perspective in mind, Abe set out to make sure that Stuyvesant would always be considered #1. Our current building is just one lasting element of his work. In retrospect, I cannot fathom the effort to navigate the politics and bureaucracy to plan, much less fulfill the vision of finding a new location befitting the top school in the city. The beauty of his legacy is that we take it for granted that we are the top public school in the city, if not the country. We don’t question it.

Abe helped us to believe. And that created the virtuous cycle where, due to that belief, we succeeded, and due to our success, the following generations wanted to exceed. All of what Stuyvesant is and represents today is due to this legacy.

Given that the 25th Anniversary of the move to the new building is upon us, this is a great time to celebrate Principal Abe Baumel’s legacy. We are announcing a campaign to raise funds to dedicate the pedestrian bridge over the West Side Highway in his honor and hang a plaque at the school entrance to the bridge to memorialize all of Abe’s achievements.

The fund will be used to help our current principal, Eric Contreras, accomplish his own Baumelian mission to upgrade the current Stuyvesant technology curriculum (unchanged since before either principal) to be relevant to our times: replacing Mechanical Draft, Metalshop, and Woodshop with Robotics, Nanotechnology, Renewable Energy, Hydroponics, and CS Programming. Yes, gritty is cool and authentic, but let’s get real: our kids deserve better. So many come from families where public schools are the only choice, and Stuyvesant as a school gets the same per capita funding as any other public high school in the state. We know that Stuyvesant students can achieve even in an outdated building from 1907, but what are the possibilities if we alumni can come together to help them achieve their potential?