I always wanted a chance to help plan a perfect school, and now I'm getting my chance. Well, maybe it won't be perfect -- public schools in New York City rarely are. I'm optimistic that this new high school, due to open in Fall 2010, will help fill a pent-up demand for better options on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
City Councilwoman Gale Brewer and Tom Allon, publisher of the West Side Spirit, asked me to be part of a multiracial committee of parents and other concerned citizens who are meeting this summer to brainstorm ideas for a new school to be housed in Brandeis High School, which is closing because of poor performance. The Department of Education has already announced plans to house three new small schools in the building starting this September, including one with a "green" theme and one focused on international studies. The school we are planning would be a fourth.
A number of parents on the committee are yearning for a school like Beacon High School, where the academics are challenging but not overwhelming. Tom, who taught at Stuyvesant High School with Frank McCourt, wants the new school to focus on writing and journalism and to be named after McCourt, the bestselling author of Angela's Ashes, who died this month. I've been pressing for a school with an enrollment of eight hundred to a thousand students. That's small enough to give students a sense of community but large enough to offer art, drama, several foreign languages, Advanced Placement, special education and services for English Language Learners that are often missing at the new small schools that have been created in recent years. (See a new report on mid-size schools. Disclosure: I am one of the authors.) I think we need a school that serves a range of kids -- not just the tippy-top students, and not just those who are struggling.
The Department of Education is interviewing prospective "project directors" for the school this summer. The "project director" will be hired part-time in the fall and, if all goes as planned, will likely be assigned as principal early in 2010. (For further information contact Tom Allon at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Department of Education hasn't signed off on anything yet, and the new school, if it is approved, won't be announced officially before next February. There are lots of knotty questions to be resolved. How will students be admitted? Will students on the West Side get a preference, or will it be open to students citywide, as Brandeis has been? Can the schools in the building work together in a way that allows them all to be successful? The planning meetings are a promising start.