Eleanor Roosevelt High School Opens Its Doors
“Do one thing every day that scares you,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of a great president, and a great woman in her own right. This September, a new high school named after her will open in its permanent home at 411 East 76th Street in Manhattan, the result of a successful effort on the part of the Upper East Side community. The school has been housed in the O. Henry Learning Center on West 17th Street for the past year.
The parents, though pleased with the education offered by District 2’s elementary and middle schools felt the choices were poor for high school, said principal Susan Elliott. Parents wanted a small, personal, academically rigorous school for bright college-bound kids who didn’t make it to Hunter or Talent Unlimited and for whom Urban Academy, a neighborhood alternative high school, was not a good match. Eleanor Roosevelt High School satisfied their needs.
The road from conception to ribbon cutting has lasted a decade and has involved parents, educators, and elected officials such as Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. The first fruit of this collective effort was Baruch College Campus High School, where Elliott taught and served as assistant principal when the school opened in 1997. But Baruch, then on 18th Street, was too far downtown. Shortly thereafter, the City Council appropriated $20 million from a special fund for the creation of new schools, and in January 2002, Elliott left Baruch to put together the Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
“Because we didn’t know until January that we would be a viable school,” said Elliott, “we missed the regular high school application process and used a rolling admissions method instead. We held a huge open house and talked to middle school guidance counselors, who recommended kids. Students applied. Of the 200 who were invited to attend, 106 decided to kkk come.” This year, Eleanor Roosevelt was listed in the High School Handbook, which is distributed to all New York City 8th graders. The number of applications rose to 1100. “It’s a demanding school for students and teachers,” said Elliott. Students are chosen by their previous academic history, with priority given to District 2 residents. They get a minimum of two and a half hours of homework a night. Each week they write a letter to their advisor about what they’re reading, and each week, the advisors write back. “It models for kids how to go beyond the plot, how to think about literature,” Elliott said. It takes three to six hours of a weekend. It’s a gargantuan amount of work. It’s one of the ways we get really good teachers. Eleanor Roosevelt hires teachers through the School-Based Option plan. In other words, whenever there is an opening, a committee of current teachers defines the responsibilities of the position. The committee hires the most senior qualified teacher who applies for the job. At Eleanor Roosevelt, each teacher is an advisor to twenty students.
Only the science teachers are exempt, due to labs. These arduous responsibilities encourage only hard-workers to apply. “All of our 13 full-time and two part-time teachers are certified or in the middle of earning their Masters degrees,” said Elliott. Furthermore, no one is teaching out of license.
“I want kids to be able to find their passion by exploring different subjects,” said Elliott. She strives to give the arts the respect that other subjects receive. In ninth grade, students can choose between a survey of art history, music appreciation, instrumental music, and drama. Tenth-graders can choose an introduction to jazz, painting and drawing, or art history. Students can study French or Spanish. Beginning next year, AP courses will be offered. The school also has an annual community service requirement.
Elliott’s vision is to create an environment where teachers and students learn from each other and support each other’s work. Elliott has provided a support structure of the form of an advising system and constant staff development. Thanks to an $18,000 grant from the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, she will be able to hire a part-time college advisor. “If a student wants to succeed, he or she can do it,” said Elliott. The same holds true for teachers.
The new Eleanor Roosevelt High School promises to embody the values of Eleanor Roosevelt: her valiant fight for diversity and human dignity, her courage in dealing with personal crises, and the example she set for working women.#
For more information, visit www.erhsnyc.org.