Get to know Jessica Yen


Jessica Yen in the Academic Dean’s Office in 2021. Photo credit: Rizal Adanza.

After a one and a half year hiatus of fully in-person school, the Urban School that students deserted in March of 2020 was not the one they returned to this fall. Inevitably we said goodbye to many and met some new faces. This year brought another change: for the first time in six years, the position of Academic Dean has changed, both in personnel and structure. Jessica Yen now assumes the role of math teacher and academic dean of students. Throughout the past few years the responsibilities of Academic Dean have been held by Geoff Ruth. This year, the role has once again been split into two different positions, one focusing on students’ well-being and the other focusing on supporting teachers.
Yen has spent a significant amount of her career teaching at public schools. She is excited to bring this perspective to her new role. “One of the pieces that I’m really interested in is looking at our curriculum from an equity lens and making sure that our curriculum and our instruction is really serving all of our students,” said Yen.
“This year is very much a learning year,” she said. It’s an opportunity to “think more [about a] longer-term vision and think about how we [Urban] can continue to improve and innovate our program.”
The job of Academic Dean covers many facets of Urban, from organizing which classes are offered each term to evaluating Urban’s homework policy. Overall, Yen said, “[The Academic Dean] is responsible for guiding the curricular vision and innovation in the school.”
While there are many parts of the job, a large portion of Jessica’s focus goes towards creating student schedules in the spring. “[The Academic Dean manipulates the master schedule] so that [Urban] can offer all of the variety of electives and courses for students,” said Yen. “We try to minimize the number of conflicts that have happened so that you all can take the courses that you want to take.” In the past, the Academic Dean has also been responsible for handling one-on-one student schedules. However, this year the role has been tweaked, giving grade deans the roles of working with students one-on-one to refine schedules and advising students academically.
In addition to taking on the challenges that come with being the Academic Dean, Yen is also leading UrbanBridge, a strength-based program for students from charter, parochial or public middle schools. “I’m really interested in looking at data about how our curriculum is actually serving different students from different backgrounds and how [they are] supported in our classrooms,” said Yen. She believes that working with UrbanBridge is an important step to understanding the impact of Urban’s curriculum on students of different backgrounds.
While Yen has only held the job of Academic Dean for half a trimester so far, she can already pinpoint a few favorite parts of the role. “[I really enjoy] being able to actually pop into the classrooms of different teachers across departments to really see the amazing things that are happening in our classrooms and the strengths of our teachers,” said Yen.
“Another piece [that] I actually genuinely like [are] logic puzzles … solving the schedule puzzle is actually really fun for me to do – it’s math in action.”