Vol. 15, No. 9      April 25 - May 8, 2002



     
 

Bronx Scores Funding for Smaller Schools

By HANNAH ADELY

In an effort to improve academic performance, Bronx educators will break up eight large borough high schools over the next two years to create 19 new small schools. Norman Wechsler, the Bronx Superintendent of high schools, announced April 6 that the borough won implementation grants for its new school proposals as part of the New Century High Schools Initiative, a public-private collaboration.

Citywide, between 35 and 60 new small high schools will be funded through a $30 million commitment from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Institute as part of the New Century Initiative.

The Bronx superintendent's office was awarded $6.5 million to open the first 10 new schools in the fall, the first installment of a three-part grant.

School-Within-A-School

The new Bronx schools will be based within Walton, John F. Kennedy, Christopher Columbus, Stevenson, Evander Childs, South Bronx, DeWitt Clinton and Morris high schools.

With no money in the city budget for new Bronx schools, the school-within-a-school model is financially sound, say those involved. "We're saving major resources in facility space," said Eric Nadelstern, deputy superintendent of the newly created Office of New and Small Schools. "These are resources we don't have during these difficult times."

Each school will be separate and autonomous, with its own principal and teachers. The schools, though, will share large facilities like the gymnasium and lunchroom with the larger school. The new schools will start with between 75 and 100 students and grow to between 300 and 500.

Local community organizations and academic and cultural institutions will help develop programs and curriculum at the schools. The Lehman College Art Gallery, for instance, will partner with the Bronx School for the Visual Arts, training teachers and sharing campus resources with the students. Lehman College will expand its collaboration with Walton's pre- teaching academy to create the High School for Teaching, where it will help instruct students and arrange internships. At Bronx Guild High School, the non-profit group Outward Bound will create off-site learning experiences in outdoor skills and community service.

At first, the new schools will accept most of their students from the larger schools they are located within. (Students who live locally are zoned for Walton, Evander and JFK, though many apply to and attend other public schools in the Bronx and elsewhere.) But the borough's official policy will be to allow all Bronx students to apply to all the small schools, without tests or a screening process. "Student interest and choice will drive high school admissions in the Bronx," Nadelstern said. "Our intent is to create the most heterogeneous environment possible by allowing students and parents to select from an array of different schools."

The idea is to give all students, regardless of skill level, an opportunity to excel. "We're really attempting to move away from the system by which the lowest achieving kids end up at zoned high schools," Nadelstern said. "We're hoping to offer quality schools borough-wide to all kids."

Smaller is Better, Educators Say

The New Century Initiative is intended to personalize education and improve overall performance among Bronx high school students. "Fifteen years of research on a national level indicates that small size is the best predictor of whether a student graduates from high school," Nadelstern said.

At small Bronx high schools like Banana Kelly and the Bronx School of Law, Government and Justice, virtually all the students graduate in four years and go on to college. Borough-wide, less than 50 percent of high school students achieve the same.

Small schools work so well, professionals say, because students get the personal attention they need to make progress. "The larger goal in creating any small high school is to make sure kids don't get lost and that every kid that enters high school has the same opportunity to graduate in four years," said Anne Rothstein, director of the Center for School/College Collaboratives at Lehman College. "We want to form a community of teachers and students that work toward joy of learning and ultimately graduating high school."

The new schools won't exacerbate overcrowding at Bronx high schools, according to Nadelstern, who said the new schools will try to implement a class size of 20.

Even though each school needs room for small classes and new staff, schools will be space-saving in the long run, he said. "We actually think we'll end up with more classroom space than currently exists.," he said. "In a large high school, you need as many as 60 people that have some active role in security. In a small school, you need one or two. It has an enormous effect on keeping class size down. The small schools just function much more efficiently."

Bronx educators hope that in time, traditional large high schools will be a thing of the past. "The hope is to eventually replace the current large school organization with a sufficient number of new small successful schools to provide services to the same number of students as are currently served in large school buildings," Nadelstern said.

The superintendent's office estimates that 100 small schools are needed to serve the entire population of Bronx high school students.

New Bronx High Schools
Schools to open in 2002 include the Community School for Social Justice at Evander; the High School for Teaching at Walton; the School for International S tudies at Kennedy; the Bronx High School for the Visual Arts at Columbus; and the Sports Academy at South Bronx. Several more will be opened in 2003.

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