Forest Hills High School
QUEENS NY 11375 Map
Forest Hills High School
Forest Hills High School is a large neighborhood school that offers 39 Advanced Placement courses, several foreign languages (including Hebrew and Chinese), 60 clubs and 35 sports teams. Designed to serve 2,500 students, the building has long been severely overcrowded with close to 4,000. Students attend school in three overlapping sessions with some arriving as early as 7:20 a.m. and the last class ending after 5 p.m.
When Saul Gootnick became principal in 2007, Forest Hills, though popular, did not have the same academic reputation as other Queens schools such as Cardozo, Bayside and Francis Lewis. Some students got lost – and skipped class or failed to take Regents or Advanced Placement tests. The graduation rate lagged, And the elegant 1940s building, was outmoded.
Gootnick focused on improving attendance, by hiring an attendance coordinator and upgrading the school's phone system. The average daily attendance rate rose from 86 percent in 2006-07 to nearly 90 percent.
Students now must take their Regents tests if they want to go to the prom or be on an athletic team. And anyone who signs up for an AP class should count on finishing it.
Forest Hills also introduced a program aimed at helping low performing students graduate -- whether it takes afterschool classes, Saturday classes, switching to a GED program or pestering parents. The graduation rate increased from barely 70 percent to nearly 85 percent.
Local politicians provided funds to modernize the building. Smart Boards were installed in every classroom, and the 1940s vintage library got a major makeover.
None of the improvements, though, mitigate the severe overcrowding. The school stays open until 8 p.m. in an effort to provide extracurricular activities and instill school spirit, but it's a struggle.
"It's pretty crowded," said one boy arriving in the late morning for the third session. By the time he leaves school after 5, eats dinner and does he homework, he complained, the evening is over. Despite the crunch, many students praised the teaching staff. And Forest Hills was featured by CNN as an example of how a large, crowded school can succeed.
Forest Hill admits anyone who moves into the school's zone during the year, resulting in some student changing classes several weeks into the year. A student struggling with an AP class, say, may be moved out of that class to make way for a new student.
Forest Hills offer honors classes, but most classes include students with a wide range of abilities. The special programs include two that feature moot court and mock trials. The Carl Sagan Program provides student with four years of research classes in addition to science and math. In one research class, students presented an experiment and their classmates critiqued it. Other options include a health professions program culminating in internships at North Shore Medical Center and drama and music academies.
Given the thousands of teenagers in a confined space and the constant coming and going, Forest Hills appears orderly with students at work in most classes. Even the cafeteria is not as noisy as one would expect.
About two thirds of Forest Hills graduates go on to college, attending a wide range of schools. The college office has two counselors.
Special education: The school offers self-contained classes, teams teaching classes and a resource room. In one team-teaching class, the two teachers collaborated closely on a lesson about the 1960 presidential election, drawing in the students. Forest Hills says it makes a concerted effort to help special education students get regular, not IEP, diplomas.
Admissions: The majority of Forest Hills students come from its zone, although some special programs take students from elsewhere. The very popular Law and Humanities program accepts students using the education option system. Students in the Sagan program are chosen based on achievement and attendance, and the drama and music academies require an audition. (Gail Robinson, April 2012)