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A Bronx Science Experiment

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Reidy says selective-college acceptances have gone up during her tenure, although she allows that some of the improvement might be owed to the new common application, which means more kids apply to more schools. In 2011, the senior class of 730 students had 742 acceptances among top-50 colleges, or 1.02 acceptances per student—a substantial increase from the .86 acceptances per student in 2000. She shows me the AP test scores and Regents mastery scores—the benchmarks she’s arguably worked hardest on—and they’re higher too. Last school year, 1,444 students, or practically half the school, took at least one AP class, and the total number of exams taken was 2,952. In 2007, 905 students took 1,824 AP tests. The percentage of tests earning a score of three or higher drifted upward in those years, from 89.4 percent in 2007 to 93.3 percent in 2011.

But whatever Reidy’s accomplishments may be, her critics say they come at too high a cost. They point to a recent Department of Education survey showing that 63 percent of Bronx Science’s teachers don’t trust the principal, and note that several of the many teachers who have left have taken jobs at Stuyvesant. They cite the latest U.S. News and World Report ranking of the nation’s top high schools, in which Bronx Science rated 58th. In 2007, it ranked 20th. In the magazine’s ranking of math-and-science high schools, Bronx Science actually lags one place behind Brooklyn Tech. In the past twelve years, Bronx Science has had 43 fewer Intel semifinalists and ten fewer finalists than Stuyvesant.

In a sense, Reidy has won the fight, at least for now. She says more than 400 people applied for the open social-studies spots. Many of her most vocal opponents are gone, and her assistant principals hail her as the first Bronx Science principal to dare to tackle long-festering problems. The parent association is in her corner. “Why do I think she takes so much heat? Because she’s willing to be a tough leader,” parent-association president Anne Reingold says. Joel Klein backed Reidy in the 2008 dispute with the math department, and although it’s possible that current chancellor Dennis Walcott might have a different view of her, the Department of Education rarely removes a school principal unless the school is failing. “I think, quite frankly, that Klein and Bloomberg really adopted what we’ve known for a long time at Bronx Science, which is teaching is not telling,” Reidy says. “Some teachers say working individually with so many kids is too much work. But that’s the knock I take. I have to hold people to a different standard here.”

She sighs. “I guess the lesson I learned is in a school like this, change takes a very long time, and you have to balance your patience with the benefit to kids,” she says. “Sometimes you can’t wait. Sometimes you have to say, ‘No, this has to happen now, because the kids need it now.’ I guess if I were really smart and had a self-preservation instinct, I would have done nothing.”

She nods, and her assistant principals sitting around the table nod with her.

“It would have been easier,” she says, “to do nothing.”


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