John F. Kennedy High School
The mammoth John F. Kennedy Educational Complex has been divided into eight small schools as part of an effort to boost academic achievement and improve safety and discipline. The effort has had mixed success: while the building is somewhat more orderly than it was a decade ago, students and teachers still complain of disrupted classes and a lack of respect from students.
Students enter the building through two entrances (one for the two charter schools and one for the other six schools), both of which have metal detectors and long lines, even though the arrival and dismissal times are staggered. It took us more than 15 minutes to get through security on our visit.
This bottleneck at the entrance and exit indicates that smaller schools may not solve all of the problems on the JFK campus. One principal stated that a problem with so many small schools is that students can easily skip classes by just moving to a different floor. On our visit, many students stood around on the 1st floor and though we were told they attended Kennedy High School, they could have been from any of the schools.
Multiple elevators and escalators and a confusing layout make it hard for students to find their way. “It’s a little scary,” said a 9th grader at the Bronx School of Law and Finance. “Once gym was cancelled and we had to go to a classroom on the 5th floor and I couldn’t find it. People can tell you’re a freshman because you’re always wandering around lost.”
On the positive side, the building has long had strong sports teams, well-equipped football fields, tennis courts and other amenities. A library, which remains unused, sits on the first floor, a potential resource for all of the schools in the building. A health clinic opened in November 2011 to serve students and their families.
The new small schools have their strengths: Marble Hill School for International Studies, the oldest and most established, serves new immigrants who are learning English and students interested in different cultures; Bronx Theatre High Schoolgives students a chance to create sets, make costumes and perform. Bronx School of Law and Finance offers themed classes with a mock courtroom and stock ticker; English Language Learners and International Support Preparatory Academy (E.L.L.I.S), opened in 2008, takes English language learners over the age of 16. While Bronx Engineering and Technology Academy has a reputation as a “bad school,” it has a graduation rate over 80 percent and an active robotics team; the two New Visions charter schools, New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science and New Visions Charter High School for Humanities opened in 2011. Still, most of the schools have issues, either with discipline or with the quality of their academic programs.
The enrollment of John F. Kennedy High School, which peaked at 4,400 students, began shrinking in 2004 as the small schools grew. In 2011, the Department of Education decided to shut John F. Kennedy by eliminating one grade per year until it graduated its last class in 2014. Results from the 2010-11 NYC School Survey were abysmally low. Over half of students who took the survey reported that their peers do not respect teachers or other students; over 70 percent of teachers reported the same.
While just about everyone agrees the building is safer than it was, a few teachers say something has been lost. There were small successful programs in the old JFK, including the Math-Science Institute and the environmental program, and a few graduates of those programs had a record of admissions to selective universities including Barnard, Dartmouth and Columbia. In the new smaller schools the majority of students go to CUNY, teachers told us. (Aryn Bloodworth, November 2011; updated June 2014 after final closure)