Williamsburg Charter High School

Phone: (718) 782-9830
Website: Click here
Admissions: Lottery/District 14 priority
Principal: Marsha Spampinato
Neighborhood: Bushwick
District: 14
Grade range: 09 thru 12

What's special:

New building and Latin Instruction

The downside:

Disappointing graduation rate; high principal turnover.

The InsideStats



Our review

Williamsburg Charter High School was designed to offer a demanding curriculumincluding two years of Latin and four years of math and sciencein a neighborhood with few options for college-bound students. The school has a new building, an extended day (with classes from 7:55 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. most days), and more extensive special education services than many other charter schools. However, it has had a revolving door of principals, significant staff turnover, and disappointing levels of academic achievement. Only about half of the students graduate on time, a decline from the school’s first years.

Marsha Spampinato, the school's founding principal who left for a job closer to her Long Island home in 2008, returned in June 2010 to "get us back to where we should be." There were three other principals, called "instructional directors" during her two-year absence. "The bar has to be higher. We can't just allow our students to squeak by," she said. She has hired several new staff members to coach teachers and counsel students.

School founder Eddie Calderon-Melendez, who serves as the CEO of Williamsburg and the two other charter schools in the Believe Network, attributes the school's declining graduation rate to changes in the student body, noting that average reading levels for incoming freshman has decreased significantly since the school first opened in 2004. "We don't push out students," he said. "If it takes you five years or six years [to graduate], then it will take that long."

On our visit, the classes seemed to be standard high school fare: Ninth graders were dissecting frogs in biology and reading Romeo and Juliet in English. Tenth graders were reading Lord of the Flies and 11th graders were reading the Crucible. Most students paid attention, and class changes were orderly. Students wear dark green blazer or cardigan, white button down shirt, tie, khaki pants or a knee-length skirt and black shoes.

The school's new building, opened in 2010 in an industrial area of Bushwick, is clean and bright, with big windows in every classroom. However, it has no outdoor space, and there were some glitches at the time of our visit. An open space on each floor, intended as area where students could relax, was converted to classrooms without walls, which some students found distracting. Administrators said walls would be built in the future.

There are two college counselors on staff. Recent graduates have gone to SUNY and CUNY schools, as well as some private colleges.

Special education: About 14 percent of students receive special education services. The school has two speech teachers and several special education teachers. English as a Second Language classes are offered once a day.

Admissions: Students are admitted by lottery. (Jill Grossman, December 2010)

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