Washington Irving High School
For years, Washington Irving High School suffered from poor academic performance and it officially closed in 2015. Now, the Department of Education is betting that small schools, each with a special theme, will be more successful than the large comprehensive high school has been.
Small schools have opened in the building: Gramercy Arts, opened in 2008, gives students an opportunity to study visual and graphic arts, fashion, dance, drama, musical theater, vocals and jazz band; the High School for Language and Diplomacy, opened September 2009, offers Chinese, French or Arabic and to give students a chance to travel abroad; the International High School at Union Square, opened in 2010, is aimed at preparing new immigrants for graduation and college. Other new schools include The Academy for Software Engineering, Union Square Academy for Health Sciences and Success Academy Union Square. The new schools have better attendance and seem more orderly than the large school they are replacing.
The Department of Education phased out the old Washington Irving High School by shrinking its enrollment each year. No new students were admitted, although those who were already enrolled were allowed to stay until they graduate in 2015.
It may take time for the tone and culture of the building to change. All students must pass through metal detectors in the dimly lit lobby in the 100-year-old building. Lateness is an issue for many students, and some stroll in at all hours of the day. Despite improved perceptions about the building’s safety, a police car parks semi-permanently outside the front of the building.
Though administrators blame Washington Irving’s poor performance in recent years on the influx of students from other closing schools, the school has been struggling for decades. For more than 10 years, the graduation rate has been below city average. In 2010-11, it was below 50 percent (compared to 67 percent citywide) and only 5.7 percent of students who began at Washington Irving graduated four years later ready for college, according to the school’s Progress Report. Attendance has remained well below citywide average for more than a decade, well before the school began receiving large numbers of students from other schools.
A former student writes: "The problems that existed in the 1950's remain the same. There was little incentive to attend classes at that time; it led to truancy then and I see that truancy continues to be a big problem now as well. In addition, I don't remember getting very much guidance or encouragement to pursue any particular courses or talents while attending school there. No one seemed to care."
Washington Irving had one area of strength: its tiny International Baccalaureate program, which awards a few students each year with an advanced degree recognized by European universities. (Aryn Bloodworth, January 2012, updated September 2015)