New York City’s Best Public High Schools—A Parents’ Guide
New York City’s Best Public High Schools—
A Parents’ Guide—Third Edition
by Clara Hemphill
Published by Teachers College Press: New York, 2007 (240pp)
No one said raising children in New York City was easy.
And trying to select an appropriate public high school for one’s child is almost as nerve-racking for city parents as negotiating the college admissions process is for anxious suburbanites.
To help with this process, Clara Hemphill, an award-winning journalist who was the founding editor of Insideschools.org, an online guide to New York City public schools, has written an updated (third edition) of her popular guide to New York City’s Best Public High Schools—A Parent’s Guide.
It’s invaluable, and should be offered to every parent of an eighth (no, make that seventh) grader to help them narrow their choices and prepare their admissions materials. It’s practically a full-time job, with tasks that include touring prospective high schools, attending open houses and high school fairs, studying for entrance exams, completing applications, writing personal essays, and in some cases, arranging for auditions.
There are now nearly 400 public high schools in New York City, primarily as a response to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations’ initiative to transform large, anonymous high schools into smaller, more focused academic communities.
As a result, the idea of a neighborhood public high school has pretty much disappeared, which also means that nearly all eighth graders and their parents have to figure out the somewhat mystifying and daunting process of selecting a public high school.
What’s welcome in Hemphill’s work is her —and her researchers’—ability to provide intimate, insider knowledge that goes beyond such statistical information as class size, graduation and college admissions rates, ethnicity or the percentage of students who qualify for free lunch. She also offers suggestions about what parents, and their children, should consider before they visit, the kinds of questions to ask when they actually tour the school, and even how to evaluate a new school that may not have much of a conventional track record.
Hemphill writes candidly about a school’s physical appearance, which can range from the brand new and beautiful to the dilapidated or downright ugly. Some schools require that students wear uniforms and that parents sign a contract or agreement that they will attend meetings with teachers and monitor homework.
Like the best college admissions’ guides, Hemphill’s guide offers detailed snapshots of a school’s culture. Prospective students, and their parents, can get a sense of how they might fit in at a particular campus. At Manhattan’s The Lab School for Collaborative Studies, for example, Hemphill bluntly writes that “It is based on the notion that kids learn best in groups—hence the name collaborative studies…Lab is not for everyone. Some kids hate group work. Classes that start as early as 7:15 am drive some kids nuts. But other kids love the place, and Lab’s consistently high test scores and graduation rates attest to its success.”
Or consider this assessment of Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, a school that “is racially and ethnically diverse and has kids of every level of skills—from super-high achievers to the severely disabled. It also attracts kids from different social milieus—from politically conservative residents of Marine Park to openly gay kids from Park Slope. Shocks of turquoise blue hair and the white head scarves that modest Muslim girls wear are both in evidence, and you may see kids in wheelchairs or a blind girl navigating the corridors with a cane.”
A particularly valuable feature of the guide is a section, at the end of each borough, highlighting what Hemphill calls “Worth Watching” schools that show great potential, such as the Brooklyn Studio Secondary School that “offers a gentler alternative to large neighborhood high schools” or The Scholar’s Academy in Queens, “a promising new school with strong leadership, imaginative teachers and smart kids.”
There is a wealth of excellent material here, written in an engaging style that conveys exactly what parents and their prospective high school students need to know. #