Long Island City High School
QUEENS NY 11106 Map
Long Island City High School
Long Island City High School has a popular culinary arts program, an imaginative program in English as a Second Language (ESL), and pockets of excellent teaching. Unfortunately, it has low rates of attendance and poor academic performance overall. Half a dozen students we spoke to said they don’t feel safe because frequent fights break out at school.
In an effort to boost academic performance, the Department of Education named Long Island City High School a transformation school in 2010. Under the terms of the $1.8 million federal grant, which requires new leadership at transformation schools, the 17-year-principal, Williams Bassell, stepped aside and Maria Mamo-Vacacela, formerly an assistant principal for math, was named interim acting principal. Basell was named as a “mentor” to the new principal and continues to work full-time in the school.
To accommodate the huge enrollment, students come to school in four shifts, some beginning as early as 7:00 a.m. The lockers are not used: Because there aren’t enough to go around, nobody is assigned to one. To help the transition to high school, 9th graders are placed in groups of 130 students and four teachers. In 10th grade, students are placed in one of eight theme-based Small Learning Communities (SLC), which have replaced the ability-based Personal Learning Environments. One student acts as a “leadership liaison” to each SLC.
Long Island City caters to a variety of student interests and needs, including a Lyfe Center, child care for the children of students, and partnerships with Gear Up and Global Kids to assist with college preparation and tutoring. The well-kept-building has an Olympic-sized pool, two gyms, a weight room, dance studio and several sports teams, including bowling, fencing, golf, and gymnastics. Several multicultural and interdisciplinary clubs including a literary magazine, orchestral concerts and annual plays, keep students occupied afterschool.
The Culinary Institute draws 2,000 applicants for 100 spots and runs like a professional kitchen, preparing students for careers in the industry (and earning them a Career and Technical Education certification)—students in upper grades prepare meals for special occasions and our visit featured delicious breakfast and lunch spreads of homemade croissants, muffins, sandwiches and brownies. “They come in with not so much discipline,” explained culinary teacher Aristotle Matsis of the change he sees in his students from 9th to 12th grade, “We go bell to bell, just like dinner in a restaurant.”
We saw some interesting projects in ESL classes, including essays by students about the challenges they faced learning English and published interviews with teachers.
However, transitions between classes were slow in many of the classes we visited, and it took students a while to settle down. Students hung around outside the building, casting an atmosphere of disorganization over the school. In a dance rehearsal for a performance the next day, students sat around the auditorium chatting. In 15 minutes, one group performed a two-minute routine.
According to the 2010-11 Learning Environment Survey, 34 percent of students say they don’t feel safe in hallways and bathrooms. Although a number of students complained to us of fights, Bassell and Mamo-Vacacela expressed surprise that students might be concerned about their safety. They told us that only 100 students were suspended in 2009-10not all for fightingand an unannounced scan in 2010 found no weapons. “Two percent [of students] take up 99 percent of the deans’ time,” stated Bassell. “We are trying to support the kid and find a niche for kids. Most are nice kids that are tremendously immature and we are trying to help them grow up.” With 18 deans on staff, Bassell emphasized, “We believe in prevention rather than cure.”
A few graduates have been admitted to top colleges such as Georgetown and Cornell. The Culinary Institute sends a few of its graduates to the Culinary Institute of America and the French Culinary Institute each year.
Special Education: The school offers a variety of programs including Collaborative Team Teaching, SETSS, self-contained classes (and an alternative assessment program), and adaptive physical education. LIC offers Spanish bilingual classes, a Bengali native language arts class and self-contained mixed-grade ESL classes. ESL students put out a literary magazine annually.
Admissions: Zoned neighborhood school. Selective admission for the Culinary Institute, the Opera Institute, the Orchestra Academy and the Western Queens Center for the Humanities and the Sciences (LIC's honors program). (Aryn Bloodworth, May 2011)