Independence High School
MANHATTAN NY 10019 Map
Independence High School
Independence is one of several "transfer alternative" schools -- schools designed for older students who have been unsuccessful in other educational settings -- that have opened in recent years. It follows the model of the original alternative schools, which were meant to offer a second chance to kids who had become too old for their grades, either because they had dropped out or had had to repeat classes. Here, students 17-years-old and older feel safe and valued.
The school has two sites. Uptown, it is housed in a portion of the Environmental Sciences High School, while downtown, it shares quarters with the City-As-School High School. Both sites provide child-care for parents of very young children through the LYFE Center program. The uptown location is more spacious, although even there, additional room would be welcome, says Principal Ron Smolkin. Isabella Mackie, a former social worker, who directs the Greenwich Village campus, as the downtown site is known, lets students use her office to stow their coats because there is no place for lockers. The schools share resources and partnerships. Both reward good attendance with a point system and offer evening sessions twice a week.
Smolkin, who became principal in April 2004, has been enthusiastically applying his 16 years of experience in alternative education. He is focusing on developing partnerships with businesses and community groups to expand the students' opportunities. The Vocational Foundation, a not-for-profit group that promotes workplace experience for students, offers six months of training and guaranteed job placement in travel and tourism, medical office billing, and other fields. Xincon Technology School, a careers school, provides computer technology training, and L'OrÃ©al sponsors paid internships and pays students to be product testers. A L'OrÃ©al executive donates a computer each month to the student with the best attendance record. Dell computers is offering laptops and technical training, while Allen & Overy, a large international law firm, has contributed art supplies and funding for art projects that will later be on display in firm's offices. The Women's Project, a not-for-profit organization providing community education, offers a drama class in which students perform in their own plays. A video room and library media center are in the works uptown. The school pays special attention to art: Huge, colorful papier-mache models of endangered species hang from the ceiling -- one part of a science study.
Despite the career orientation of the partnerships, the school places its heaviest emphasis on getting students to earn the academic credits they need for graduation. Because students arrive with varying degrees of preparation, classes are filled with kids of diverse ages and academic experience. This is the major challenge that Smolkin asks his staff to meet, and he says that, by and large, they do. Many of the teachers are Teaching Fellows -- from the city Department of Education program to prepare recent graduates and professionals in other fields for careers as teachers -- and Smolkin praises them heartily. The staff is also top heavy with guidance personnel, with three fulltime guidance counselors and two fulltime grade advisors, who act as deans.
To bolster students' success on Regents exams, the Kaplan test prep company trains teachers in test prep free of charge, and the school has a family study night when Barrons prep books are distributed.
Fewer than 100 students took the January 2005 Regents exams, but the pass rates were a source of pride. More than 80 percent of the test-takers passed the Math A and US history exams, while all passed the Spanish test.
Special education: A special education teacher works with about 40 learning disabled kids who are otherwise indistinguishable from their classmates. (Judy Baum, February 2005)