If you’re thinking ahead to high school, and continuing to go public (or maybe switching from private school into the public realm), New York City journalist Clara Hemphill continues to offer solace with a recently updated version of her excellent resource book, New York City’s Best Public High Schools: A Parents’ Guide (Teachers College Press, $19.95). “New York City has long had the most extensive system of school choice in the country, and, despite the many problems plaguing public education, the number of options for high school students continues to grow,” she writes. While she concedes that substantial improvements are likely to take a number of years, she also cites the baby steps already in place: the opening in recent years of several dozen new schools, the capital infusion into the system by private foundations; and the new chancellor’s commitment to the creation of new, smaller schools. The highly selective high schools (Stuyvesant and Hunter) are well known. But as Hemphill points out, “Manhattan is home to some of the most innovative and interesting programs” as well. Among the schools highlighted in this new edition:
• High School for Economics and Finance, 100 Trinity Place, which she describes as “ a small, safe school … offering internships on Wall Street and weekly seminars conducted by business people.” Seventy-five percent of students go on to four-year colleges.
• Leadership and Public Service High School, next door at 90 Trinity Place, “offers an unusual mentoring program that pairs Syracuse University alumni with students.” While many students take five or six years to graduate, 90 percent go on to college. “Parents and students give the staff and principal high marks for dedication and a nurturing spirit,” Hemphill reports.
• University Neighborhood High School, 200 Monroe Street, where “graduate students from NYU’s school of education tutor the students during and after school”; a few seniors also take classes at NYU. Reports Hemphill: “The staff is ambitious for the students and sets very high standards for them.”
• City-as-School, 116 Clarkson Street is “a counter-cultural haven for kids who are alienated by traditional classrooms.” Internships are stressed here over classroom learning.
• Humanities Preparatory Academy, 351 West 18th Street, “which takes in kids who are performing poorly or who have been truant for months and prepares them for demanding four-year colleges.”
• The Landmark School, 220 West 58th Street, “has some of the coziness you might find in a small middle school: cheerful classrooms decorated with students’ work, and kids moving around as they work on projects. There’s a family feeling, and kids seem happy and well cared-for.”
• Central Park East Secondary School, 1573 Madison Avenue, which believes it’s more important to study a few disciplines in depth than to have a smattering of many subjects. New state Regents standards have had troubling results here, however, because these run counter to Central Park East’s philosophies. Nevertheless, Hemphill dubs this school a leader in public school education.
• Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, FDR Drive at East 116th Street, which offers Japanese, Latin and West African dance, among many others.
Twenty-two other Manhattan high schools are listed, in detail, in this new edition (as well as others throughout the other four boroughs). Each includes class size, average SAT scores, graduation and college admissions rates. Hemphill is director of the Public School Information Center at Advocates for Children of New York, and is founding editor of Insideschools.org, an online guide to the NYC public school system. She is also the author of similar resource books on public elementary and middle schools. She was assisted in the research of this newest book by Pamela Wheaton and Jacqueline Wayans, both of whom work at Insideschools.org. All three have children who attend public school in the city.
The more things change? Over the next two years, the State plans to raise the passing rate on the five Regents exams, from 55 percent to 65 percent. If these new rules were in effect right now, most of the city’s public high school senior class would fail to graduate, several local education experts predicted in an article in The New York Post last month. Also, last month, state officials identified more than 40 percent of New York City schools as failing to meet new federal standards. Several of the “schools in need of improvement” or those “requiring academic progress” are the very ones included in Clara Hemphill’s newly revised guide to the best public high schools. Author Hemphill responds: “Most of the big neighborhood high schools in Manhattan range from disappointing to downright dangerous. But there are some new, small schools that are really worth a look. You can't judge a school by the test scores alone. That's why you find so many contradictions in the state's lists — schools that are named Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the state one year, and then show up on the state's list of failing schools the next year. What I've done in my book is visit schools and tell you their strengths and weaknesses — so a school might have a great English department, but a weak math department." Details of the latest lists of schools cited can be found on the NY State Education Department’s website: www.emsc.nysed.gov.