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New York City
November 2002

Inside the Superintendent’s Office
Rose Albanese-DePinto, Senior Superintendent of High Schools
By Marie Holmes

As Senior Superintendent of high schools, Rose Albanese-DePinto knows that, in New York City, building space is worth its square footage in gold. Having spent a year at 110 Livingston, home of the now defunct Board of Education, she’s also appreciative of her new workspace in the renovated Tweed Courthouse.

“Have you seen our cubicles?” she asks visitors, proudly leading them into a large room with high ceilings where over a dozen people sit typing and talking on telephones in small, shiny desks, separated from one another by low partitions.

The corporate-inspired enthusiasm and competitiveness instilled by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein is palpable in the shared offices and open conference spaces. The rooms are literally abuzz; no conversation is private.

“Here it’s easier,” says DePinto. All of the high school superintendents work in one room, and the Chancellor is on the same floor, so when DePinto needs to speak with him, she says, “I just run into the office.”

DePinto started out in the schools as a teacher of Spanish and Italian. She served as Principal of William Cullen Bryant HS in Queens, then as Deputy Superintendent of the Brooklyn and Staten Island high schools. When the Carnegie, Gates and Open Society foundations gave the former BOE $30 million over a year ago, earmarked to reform the city’s high schools, then- Chancellor Harold Levy brought DePinto on board to head the effort. Her current responsibilities also include training and supervising the six high school superintendents.

A core team, says DePinto, composed of representatives from the Department of Education, the teacher’s union, New Visions for Public Schools and the other sponsoring foundations, “forged the agenda for high school reform.” Together, they are responsible for the opening of an astounding 28 new high schools this past September.

The city, of course, did not construct 28 new buildings. The majority of the new schools are housed in existing high school facilities. Martin Luther King, Jr. for example, is being phased out. After 2005, students will graduate from either the MLK HS for Law, Advocacy and Community Service or the MLK HS of Arts and Technology. Roosevelt, Taft and Morris are similarly being carved into smaller, theme-based academies.

Ten of the 28 new schools are located in the Bronx, with another nine scheduled to open next fall. Looking at graduation and drop out rates, says DePinto, “the greatest need was in the Bronx.”

“We’re really looking to strengthen all of the high schools in New York City,” she says, “so that there are high schools of choice in all the boroughs.”

The theme-based small schools model (“the ideal size . . . is 500 to 600 students”) is, according to DePinto, “what parents and, really, what children want.” It’s also the only model that New Century grant recipients are allowed to follow.

As for the themes, which range from straightforward ideas like dance and business to the more lofty ‘global education’ and ‘social justice’, DePinto asserts, “the bottom line is that these are academically rigorous high schools.”

“There should be evidence of [the theme] in all the core curriculum,” she explains, “in addition to having a very special sequence of courses,” as well as internship opportunities, guest speakers and the like.

‘Lead partners’–corporations, non-profits and universities–have pitched in as well, offering internships and other opportunities for students.

Three schools were opened on CUNY campuses. High schools at CCNY, Lehman and York colleges, which admit students based on their Specialized HS Admissions Test scores, allow students to complete the credits necessary to earn their diplomas in three years, using their fourth year to take college courses.

Even in the face of new standards imposed by No Child Left Behind and increasing Regents requirements (the class of 2005 will have to pass five exams with a score of 65 or above in order to receive their diplomas), DePinto recognizes that it is unreasonable to expect all high school graduates to go on to college.

Career and technical education schools, as vocational schools are now called within the Department, are “dually challenged,” she says, since students must prepare for the Regents exams at the same time that they complete
their technical training. “These sequences are quite rigorous and they require a lot of time. These kids are there nine or ten periods a day, if not more, because they have this dual

DePinto affirms her commitment to making the technical schools into schools of choice as well, challenging the public perception of them as “dumping grounds” for poor students. Of the 18 technical schools in the city, several applied for the new state certification to grant diplomas in specialized areas. Nine programs have now been approved for certification, and DePinto expects that another nine will be approved by the end of the year.

Specialized instruction, coupled with academic rigor in a small school setting, DePinto believes, is the key to improving New York City’s high schools.

“I was principal of a very large school. I loved my school; however, I know that I lost kids. Not all of my kids graduated from my school and that really disturbed me.”

The new schools, she says, all boast 93 percent attendance rates or above.

After all, before the city’s students can be taught to ace standardized exams, fix a computer or dance in toe shoes, they have to walk in the door–and then want to come back.#

City: State:

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.