Streams

Last Students at Phase-Out School Face Limited Choices

Thursday, May 30, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Chemistry, physics, art and Advanced Placement courses are among the subjects one might expect to find in a New York City high school. But not at Christopher Columbus High School in the Bronx. The large neighborhood school is in the process of closing, and has had to drastically limit its offerings.

David Damiani is graduating from Columbus this spring. He felt the impact of the reduced course listings; he said it may have hurt his chances to attend the college of his dreams, the University of Vermont.

"All we offered was AP English and that’s what I took," he said. "It wasn’t more than that. And science pretty much stopped at chemistry. And I took that as well."

Columbus, which once had more than 4,500 students, now only has about 350 juniors and seniors. With fewer teachers, principal Lisa Fuentes said she's been able to hang onto lower-level science classes, such as ecology, but she had to eliminate AP courses this year.

She conceded Damiani was extremely affected by the school's closing. "Looking back as an administrator, you know, I failed that kid," Fuentes said.

Damiani is set to attend the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

Sharing Resources

When asked if Fuentes could have enrolled Damiani in other schools in the same building, Fuentes said the process is complicated because schedules don't always line up and there are space limitations. She said about 10 of her students did take AP classes in the other schools this year. She paid for an art teacher from one of those schools to teach her students last fall. A limited number of her students can also take classes at Lehman College.

The deputy chief academic officer at the city's Department of Education, Josh Thomases, acknowledged phase-out schools throughout the city have had trouble with course selection. That, he said, was part of the shift from big, failing schools to smaller schools.

"They offer the core content to ensure students are ready to graduate, aspirationally, with a full diploma, advanced Regents diploma and college ready," he explained. "And they get as many students across those different finish lines as possible."

But what about students who can't take all the classes they want, such as Damiani? Thomases turns the question around.

"So the interesting thing to me about the question is, it starts from a frame that we failed this student, when in fact what you told me is the young man is going on to the State University of New York, which is an extraordinary success at a school that has had such endemic failure."

A Sense of Abandonment

Thomases said the DOE has a network of staffers helping the phase-out schools stretch their budgets. But it’s ultimately up to each principal to figure out how to meet the minimum requirements while also providing the right mix of electives.

This is why many teachers at the closing schools believe the city has abandoned them, and should have done more to help them when they started to struggle instead of deciding to shut them down. At Columbus, teachers said they believe things went downhill after a couple of small schools opened in the building, siphoning off some of the strongest students.

"I feel you have no right to disembowel and emasculate the entire school population, giving the children less and less opportunities," said history teacher Donald March.

A volunteer is now helping Columbus raise money. Mary Conway Spiegel is a parent from Manhattan who got involved in the fight to keep Columbus open three years ago. Her organization, Partnership for Student Advocacy, aims to raise $600,000 to help students pay for SAT and college application fees, and to take art and music classes. Her own children attend public schools in Chelsea.

"In the right zip code, this type of programming is paid for by the parent teacher association," she said.

Seven Schools, One Building

Hear what students in the seven campuses think about each other schools. [NOTE: Audio coming soon] Fatima Santos is a senior at Columbus who said she thinks kids from the other schools look down on Columbus students. But, she added, on the cheerleading team -- which draws from all the schools -- everyone gets along well.

The seven high schools in the Columbus building have different graduation rates, attendance rates, and populations. Below are some of the D.O.E. statistics for the current school year. For more data on the individual schools, just click on their names.

Christopher Columbus High School
Enrollment: 354 juniors and seniors
2012 four-year graduation rate: 36.7%
College readiness rate: 4.4%
Attendance year to date: 79%
Special Education Students: 19%, with 7% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 15.5%
Admissions Policy: was a zoned high school

Collegiate Institute for Math and Science
Enrollment: 628 students grades 9-12
2012 four-year graduation rate: 89.5%
College readiness rate: 64.8%
Attendance year to date: 89.5%
Special Education Students: 17%, with 4.3% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 3.5%
Admissions policy: Limited screening system for math and sciences

Bronxdale High School
Enrollment: 214 freshmen and sophomores
2012 four-year graduation rate: N/A
Attendance year to date: 85.6%
Special Education Students: 17% with 0.47% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 5.6%
Admissions policy: Limited screening system for humanities

Global Enterprise High School
Enrollment: 130 juniors and seniors
2012 four-year graduation rate: 44.5%
College readiness rate: 9.1%
Attendance year to date: 76%
Special Education Students: 19.23% with 10% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 12.3%
Admissions policy: was an Educational Option school, with goals for how many students would come from the low, medium and high academic performance spectrum

High School of Language and Innovation
Enrollment: 195 freshmen and sophomores
2012 four-year graduation rate: N/A
Attendance year to date: 93.8%
Special Education Students: 3%, with none requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 74.87%
Admissions policy: Screened for students with limited English skills

Pelham Preparatory Academy
Enrollment: 503 students in grades 9-12
2012 four-year graduation rate: 91.3%
College readiness rate: 30.4%
Attendance year to date: 91.1%
Special Education Students: 17.5% with 5.37% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 2%
Admissions Policy: Limited screening system for humanities

Astor Collegiate Academy
Enrollment: 467 students in grades 9-12
2012 four-year graduation rate: 68.5%
College readiness rate: 11.1%
Attendance year to date: 91.1%
Special Education Students: 23.56% with 1.93% of those requiring the most restricted small classes
English Language Learners: 7.28%
Admissions policy: Limited screening system for math and sciences

Tom Lisi and Jessica Gould contributed assistance and additional reporting to this report.

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Comments [1]

janice

cchs educated me and allowed me to enter college at age 15. my self motivation was the largest "je ne said quoi." in the equation. poorer than dirt, no resources except for my brain. today's students (and their noisy parents) are a conundrum to me.

Mar. 06 2014 08:33 AM

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