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The Top of Their Class

The Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences
2001 Oriental Boulevard
Brooklyn, NY 11235
Admissions policy:
Educational option
Grade level: 9-12
Graduation rate: 93%
Enrollment: 802
Class size: 34
Ethnicity: 71% W, 13% B, 7% H, 9% A
Average SATs: Verbal, 498; math, 527
Free lunch: 18%

Between classes, students wander a leafy campus overlooking the water. There are no bells, no squawking announcements from the public-address system. It may sound like a suburban California school, but it's the Leon Goldstein High School for the Sciences, located in the far reaches of Brooklyn on the campus of Kingsborough Community College.

Leon Goldstein bills itself as a "science school," where students take four years of math and four years of science. But, says PTA co-chair Donna Lechillgrien, "I think its strength is in the humanities, believe it or not." The school puts on two plays a year and is one of the last schools in the city to continue the tradition of the December "Sing" music-and-dance performance, in which virtually every student in the school participates. Seniors are paired with freshmen, sophomores with juniors.

AP courses are offered in both AB and BC calculus, biology, chemistry, physics, Western civilization, U.S. history, English literature, and, on occasion, Spanish. The typical class size is 34, but in many classes, especially AP courses, there are as few as 14 students. Students are dismissed from regular classes at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays for an hour of club meetings, including dance, drama, and science. Team sports include soccer, basketball, swimming, golf, bowling, and tennis.

Leon Goldstein has an association with Lincoln Center and boasts an accomplished jazz band with a teacher who's a musician and composer. The school also collaborates with Brooklyn Botanic Garden; students worked with urban planners to design outdoor space behind the building. A science class tested soil and suggested plants that would grow well. An art class drew up landscaping plans.

The arts are integrated into English, social-studies, and language classes. For example, kids in an English class reading Lord of the Flies worked with visiting artists to build small canoes out of balsa wood and chicken wire to be floated in Sheepshead Bay. (Happily, that was all they re-created from the book's plot.)

How hard is it to get in? Perhaps because of its remote location, Leon Goldstein remains a well-kept secret. But the school is open to all New York City residents. Students are chosen by a formula designed to ensure a mix of high and low achievers. Most students come from nearby Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods, including the Rockaways.

Downsides: Leon Goldstein students actually did less well on the math and science Regents than on the writing, English, and social-studies tests. Also, reaching Manhattan Beach by public transportation is difficult. Some Queens students hire a private bus.

Midwood High School
2839 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11210
Admissions policy: Neighborhood school, screened
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: 87%
Enrollment: 3,500
Class size: 31-34
Ethnicity: 33% W, 38% B, 9% H, 20% A
Average SATs: Verbal, 509; math, 537
Free lunch: 13%

At Midwood, it's socially acceptable to study round-the-clock. Kids are obsessed with their grade-point averages. The New York Times Magazine chronicled the life of a Midwood student who worked so hard she didn't stop for meals.

The tone is traditional and highly structured. The H-shaped building with a cupola, constructed in 1940, is cheerful and well kept, if worn. The labs that produce so many top science students are so old they could almost qualify as museum pieces. Science equipment is stored in oak cabinets with glass doors.

As many as 4,000 students are packed in a building designed for 2,300. Classes are held in three overlapping sessions, with some students arriving as early as 7 a.m. and finishing at 12:30 p.m., and others arriving at 10:45 a.m. and staying until 4:20 p.m. The first lunch period is at 9:45 a.m.; practice for band and orchestra starts as early as 7 a.m. Advanced Placement courses are so oversubscribed that only students with near-perfect grades are permitted to take them.

And yet in 1999, Midwood had more semifinalists in the Intel Science Talent Search than any other high school in the nation, and in 2000 it tied for first place. Midwood offers fourteen Advanced Placement courses, and the College Board listed it among the best schools in the nation in terms of AP offerings. The school has an extensive sports program -- including competitive team sports and aerobics, tennis, bowling, and billiards. Soccer, basketball, varsity swimming, and track are strong.

Midwood is racially integrated, and students say that's one of its strengths. A black student, Natasha McLeod, recalls how her life has been enriched by friendships at Midwood with Russian and Pakistani girls. A white girl who transferred from a small private school says she appreciates the lack of snobbery. "All different religions and races, freaks and geeks -- you learn to like all kinds of people here," says another student.

How hard is it to get in? About 230 students are admitted each year to Midwood's medical-science program; about 230 freshmen are admitted to the humanities program, all according to their academic records. Students zoned for the school are automatically admitted. Applicants may list Midwood as their first or second choice to be considered.

Downsides: "You can't beat the math and science," says one parent. "But . . . if you're not in the specialized programs, you're forgotten about." About 10 percent of students take more than four years to graduate, and many kids transfer to other schools.

Guidance and college counseling: Only two college counselors for a graduating class of 500 to 700 seniors, but the office is well run and efficient and keeps students on top of deadlines.

High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology
350 67th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11220
Admissions policy:
Educational option
Grade levels: 9-12
Graduation rate: 64%
Enrollment: 1,200
Class size: 21-34
Ethnicity: 16% W, 17% B, 59% H, 8% A
Average SATs: Verbal, 427; math, 436
Free lunch: 43%

Located in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Bay Ridge, overlooking the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and New York Harbor, Telecommunication is housed in a Gothic-style brick building, complete with turrets and towers. Inside the stately entrance, the atmosphere is far more modern. While retaining some of the architectural charm and detail of the original building, Telecommunication is fully loaded with up-to-date equipment.

The school has a television studio with three cameras and sophisticated editing systems, five computer labs, and Internet access in every classroom. In addition, there is a mobile computer lab -- a cart with twenty laptops equipped with antennas used for research in humanities classes and for science labs. It's the only high school in the city to have its own Web server (every student learns HTML), and there is a course dedicated to creating and maintaining the school's Website:

Many staff development days have been devoted to how to do interdisciplinary work, especially in English and social studies, and how to use Websites in a classroom. English honors students created a Web page to show off what the class had learned about author Toni Morrison and her novel Song of Solomon. Students were asked to write two original essays, one discussing the importance of names in the novel and the second exploring a theme of their own choosing. They also provided online photographs and a biography about the author and links to relevant sites.

Some schools build their reputation by attracting high-achieving kids. Telecommunication is building its reputation by attracting first-rate teachers. Instead of being assigned according to seniority, as is the norm in New York City public schools, prospective teachers are interviewed by the staff and asked to teach a demonstration class.

"This is a school that combines a hardworking faculty with academics, athletics, and the arts," says sophomore Vanessa Poggioli. "If you're not doing well in a subject, there will be a resource; if you want to start a club, they'll help."

How hard is it to get in? The school, which is open to students from across Brooklyn, used to draw most of its students from Bay Ridge. More recently, Park Slope families are looking at it as a smaller alternative to Murrow and Midwood. The school admits students according to a formula that balances low- and high-achieving students.

Downsides: Space is limited, so there's no lounge or special place for students to hang out. There are no lockers, and students must carry their coats and books.