N.Y.C. To Create Small, Theme-Oriented High Schools

By Ann Bradley — April 01, 1992 5 min read

The New York City school system is moving on several fronts to create at least 15 small, theme-oriented high schools to provide more supportive environments for students and to expand their choices among the city’s high schools.

While the typical New York high school serves 2,000 to 3,000 students, Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez has announced plans to create 10 new high schools in the next two years that would enroll between 500 and 700 students each.

“The very size and general curricular focus of many of our older high schools tend to create an impersonal setting for youngsters in desperate need of a more personalized, caring environment,’' Mr. Fernandez noted in a memorandum to the city board of education explaining his initiative.

In contrast, the new schools are to be more “flexible,’' the chancellor said. Some, for example, might also serve elementary- or middle-school students.

All will have both high expectations for students and innovative curricula, according to Mr. Fernandez’s plan. Businesses, foundations, and universities are involved in many of the projected schools.

The plans for the new schools complement existing efforts to create “houses’’ within the city’s high schools to serve 9th- and 10th-grade students, Mr. Fernandez noted. (See Education Week, March 1, 1989.)

While the city has a number of outstanding high schools, said Stanley S. Litow, the deputy chancellor for operations, “the high schools in particular in New York have been seen as an institution resistant to change.’'

‘New Visions Schools’

In addition to the 10 schools envisioned under Mr. Fernandez’s plan, the district and the Fund for New York City Public Education are developing requests for proposals to create 5 smaller schools.

These schools, which would enroll no more than 500 students apiece, must include grades 9 to 12, but also could include earlier, consecutive grades. The “New Visions Schools Project’’ is being supported by a three-year, $676,250 grant from the Aaron Diamond Foundation.

While the proposals will invite “all interested parties’'--including universities, community organizations, principals, and teachers--to submit ideas for new schools, the proposals must be jointly designed by one of the city’s 32 community school districts and the central Division of High Schools.

On another front, the school system is considering creating a number of small high schools to work with the Coalition of Essential Schools, a nationwide network that assists schools in reforming their priorities and simplifying their structures.

Expanded School Choice

The variety of strategies for breaking down the anonymity of the comprehensive high schools also includes an ongoing effort launched by Mr. Fernandez called “Project Achieve!’' The program targets the 32 high schools with the worst attendance and achievement problems.

These schools--which have management teams made up of principals, teachers, parents, and others--have shown “significant gains in attendance, achievement, and credit accumulation,’' Mr. Litow said.

Finally, the strategy for broadening students’ options includes a new policy to allow youngsters to choose to attend a vocational or occupational program after the 9th grade.

Previously, students had been required to select a high-school program after the 8th grade. They may now transfer into the vocational schools in the 10th or 11th grade.

The students transferring in at that time will be provided with opportunities during the summer and in extended-day programs during the school year to bring themselves up to speed on the curriculum.

And Chancellor Fernandez is in the process of developing what Mr. Litow called a “larger and more comprehensive strategy on school choice’’ that will be submitted to the board of education for approval.

Corporate Academy

One of the 10 schools planned under Mr. Fernandez’s initiative, the Metropolitan Corporate Academy, opened in February in a former office building in Brooklyn. The curriculum for the school, which enrolls 80 “disaffected’’ students, was designed by the Cities in Schools program and aims at preparing students to work in the corporate sector.

The investment firm Goldman, Sachs & Company has contributed furniture and computer equipment to the school and will help the students find opportunities for work in the business world.

This fall, five more schools are scheduled to open:

  • The Wadleigh School, planned together with the Colgate-Palmolive Company, will have a middle school of 540 students and an upper school of 720 students. They will be divided into three “houses’’ to study writing and publishing, science and technology, and the fine and performing arts.
  • The High School for Environmental Studies, which will have a curriculum designed by the Council on the Environment of New York City. The Surdna Foundation is providing money for staff development and training and enrichment opportunities for students. The school will be housed in the old Stuyvesant High School building.
  • The Pfizer/Reich School, which will be housed in a building donated by Pfizer Inc. in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The school will be a satellite of Eastern District High School and will offer a two-way, bilingual English-Spanish program.

Initially, it will serve kindergartners and 1st graders, adding a grade each year through grade 8. Grades 7 and 8 will be housed in the high school; both schools will collaborate on curriculum and staff development.

  • The District Two Collaborative, which will consist of the technology-oriented School of the Future for grades 7 to 12 and the Professional Performing Arts School for grades 6 to 12.

Both schools will be housed in existing school buildings. Eventually, the two schools will enroll a total of about 1,200 students.

  • The Chancellor’s Model School Project, for 7th through 12th graders. The school will be a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools.

The following fall, three more schools are scheduled to open with community-service, Japanese-language, and finance, tourism, and public-service themes.

The school system also is searching for space for a school called Liberty II, modeled after an existing school, that would serve children who have recently immigrated and speak little or no English.

The school would be designed as a “bridge’’ to a regular high-school setting and would have an intensive community-outreach program.

A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 1992 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. To Create Small, Theme-Oriented High Schools