Sheepshead Bay High School
JUNE 2013 UPDATE: Sheepshead Bay High School is being phased out and replaced after years of poor performance. No new students were admitted in September 2013, and the phase-out will be completed in June 2016. The DOE has proposed to open and co-locate one new district high school, two new public charter high schools, and one new district transfer high school in the building.
MARCH 2012 REVIEW: Sheepshead Bay High School has lots of help for struggling students and new immigrants; top track and cricket teams; and electives like ceramics, dance and orchestra. Attendance and discipline problems have long plagued the school, however, and it relies heavily on a credit recovery program to graduate its diverse array of students.
Branded one of the city's lowest performing schools, primarily based on a low graduation rate in 2009, the school received $1.3 million in federal money in 2011 to help turn things around. Principal Reesa Levy planned to spend almost the entire grant on teachers, which allowed her to institute double science and math periods to help the majority of students who come in functioning below grade level. But a legal dispute in December 2011 between the city and groups hired to help the struggling schools halted the funding, and that same month Levy announced her retirement. In February, Sheepshead Bay was one of 33 schools the city was threatening to close, fire half the staff and then re-open in the fall of 2012.
City politics aside, the classes we saw on our visit were lively and engaging—even though it took staff a while to herd kids from the halls into the classes.
School staff took comprehensive approach to the students' many social problems: the school has seven social workers; 10 guidance counselors; and a peer mediation program (with a full-time mediator) which handled 780 incidents in 2010-11. The building also has scanners, five police officers, 17 safety agents and 10 deans. On the day we visited, half a dozen cops were patrolling outside as students arrived.
The school is divided into academies in which students may specialize in nursing, sports medicine, dance and law. Students may be certified as nursing assistants and may train in nursing homes and hospitals.
There are more than 40 languages spoken in the building and some students are attracted by the extensive language offerings. There are bilingual Creole and Spanish programs as well as advisories in Creole, Urdu, Russian, Arabic and Spanish.
A Scholars Academy serves higher-performing students who take three Advanced Placement classes and earn an advanced Regents diploma. AP offerings include English, biology, social studies and calculus.
Although the school's enrollment has declined in recent years, its large size allows it to offer electives like criminal psychology, forensics, ceramics, and photography. Students may choreograph performances in a large dance studio, study one of many instruments for an orchestra class and take gym in a professional-style weight room. There is also a mock courtroom where students learn litigation and legal tactics from volunteer lawyers and a welcoming and well-stocked new library.
The school offers many competitive sports teams. Sheepshead Bay was first in the city and state in track and field, and second in the city in cricket in 2010-11. When teachers discovered that many of the more observant Muslim girls weren't dressing for co-ed gym classes, they set up a now-beloved folk-dancing class for them.
Part of what allowed the school to improve its graduation rate in recent years is an extensive credit recovery program. A coordinator and licensed teacher staff a room with about 30 computers, which was full the day we visited. Using an Education Department-approved program called PLATO, students accumulate credits for classes they failed. Levy says only students who actually attended class most of the time are allowed to use the program, not those who failed simply because they were absent. "I just didn't like my math class. I couldn't learn there," said one student sitting at a computer. "Here I can just go at my own pace. I got almost all my English credits this way."
The school is across the street from a large housing project and around the corner from a bustling junior high school. The staff has been working hard to shake the school's reputation as an unsafe dumping ground for troubled kids. Levy, principal since 2005, walks the hall confidently, shouting affectionately to students to get to class and take off their hats. Hallways are clean, if a bit bare.
Most students don't come from the surrounding neighborhood. Other schools in the district, such as James Madison, Edward R. Murrow and Leon Goldstein attract some of the highest-performing students. Sheepshead Bay gets many of the students who would have gone to now-closed Canarsie, Tilden and South Shore.
Special education: The school has several Integrated Co-Teaching classes for students who need special services, as well as push-in services in Urdu. About 20 students in wheelchairs learn in self-contained classrooms and also work in a nearby nursing home.
College admissions: The college office has one counselor dedicated to college admissions. Some 450 students -- representing about half the students who enter as freshman -- go to college. Most attend CUNYs or community colleges.
Admissions: Zoned neighborhood school. The individual programs, such as law and nursing, admit children according to the Educational Option formula which ensures a mix of low-, average, and high-achieving students. (Meredith Kolodner, October 2011, updated March 2012)