It's easy (and tempting too, if you're a mayoral candidate) to talk about what's wrong with New York's public schools. What you hear a lot less about is what's right. Especially when it comes to high schools. Everyone knows about the crown jewels of our sprawling and uneven system -- Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, LaGuardia -- but too many parents haven't heard of the newer success stories like the Goldstein High School for the Sciences in Brooklyn, the Young Women's Leadership School in Spanish Harlem, or the Lab School for Collaborative Studies in Chelsea. And because students can apply to high schools all over the city, it's important to check out what's available outside your home district.
With the November 15 deadline to apply for next year rapidly approaching, we asked Clara Hemphill, author of New York City's Best Public High Schools: A Parents' Guide (just published by Teachers College Press), to look past Stuyvesant and its three well-known rivals, and find us the other best high schools in the city.
Over the past several years, Hemphill and her colleagues at the nonprofit Advocates for Children in Manhattan have visited scores of public high schools and interviewed hundreds of students, teachers, and parents. What they found was encouraging: Through skillful leadership and energetic fund-raising, certain schools have managed to mitigate the endemic woes of so many other city schools -- peeling paint, antique facilities, oversize classes, overwhelmed teachers -- to offer children real opportunities to excel. Most are small and experimental in their approach to learning; some are only a few years old. What they have in common is a group of passionate educators, diverse students, and engaged parents. What follows, then, are twenty of the best and most promising high schools in the system.
Baruch College Campus High School
17 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Admissions policy: Educational option
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: Not yet available
Class size: 34 %
Ethnicity: 35% W, 9% B, 15% H, 41% A
Average SATs: Not yet available
Free lunch: 48%
Pairs of kids are sprawled on the floors of the classroom and hall, reading to one another from the Epic of Gilgamesh as part of their study of ancient history. This relaxed atmosphere, combined with hard work on classical texts, is typical of Baruch College Campus High School, a new school that has become one of the most popular in Manhattan even though it only graduated its first class in 2001.
Baruch is located on the tenth floor of a modern building on the campus of Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. (Students may take college classes too.) "The assignments we give are progressive, but the curriculum is traditional," says principal Jill Myers, who founded the school in 1997 with a group of teachers.
The school's strength has been in the humanities -- kids read Greek classics such as Antigone and The Odyssey, Shakespeare's comedies, and Dante's Inferno as well as modern novels and non-Western works of literature from Africa and Asia -- and writing is emphasized. But imaginative new chemistry and physics teachers promise to bolster the science departments. The school has embraced District 2's math curriculum, called arise, in which students must explain in writing how they reached their mathematical conclusions and solve what are called "real world" problems. (For example, they might use algebra to understand how codes were cracked during World War II.)
How hard is it to get in? As many as 2,000 kids apply for 100 spots, so children must list it as a first choice on the application. Preference is given to students living in District 2 or attending District 2 middle schools.
Downsides: Sharing space with the college can be inconvenient. The high-school offices are on the fifteenth floor, five floors away from the classrooms. The college uses the classrooms at night, so high-school teachers must lock up their supplies each day.
Guidance and college counseling: There are two guidance counselors and a part-time college adviser -- an unusually advantageous ratio. Each student is assigned the same adviser for four years. Students meet with their advisers in groups of twenty every day for half an hour and write them weekly letters. The adviser is the main contact for parents.