Academy for Young Writers

Phone: (718) 688-7230
Website: Click here
Admissions: Unscreened
Principal: Courtney Winkfield
Neighborhood: East New York
District: 19
Grade range: 06 thru 12

What's special:

Principal has a clear vision; beautiful, well-equipped new building

The downside:

Math Regents scores lag behind English; new building is far from the subway

The InsideStats


Our review

At the Academy for Young Writers, all students are published authors by the time they graduate. There is an in-house publishing house, a fulltime poet in residence and young, idealistic teachers who forge close relationships with students.

Freshmen and sophomores start with a two-year writing lab that introduces creative and analytical writing skills that are important to prepare students for college. All units of study in every class end with an exhibition, largely based on writing and students write in every subject.

The approach has met with success. Founded in 2006, some 85 percent of its students in this unscreened school graduate in four years. The school was given a beautiful new facility in 2012 and it will expand to include a middle school beginning with a 6th grade in 2013. “There’s so much more you can do with seven years than with four, especially the college readiness piece,” said Principal Courtney Winkfield in a telephone interview.

After five years in Williamsburg, the school moved to East New York, a move that was serendipitous because, although it is far from any subway stop, it is much closer to where most students live. That should help boost attendance and parent involvement, both of which were problematic when most families lived an hour away from school, said the principal.

“It was more than just getting a beautiful new space,” she said, “it was getting a beautiful new space in our students’ backyard.”

About 60 percent of the students come from East New York and Brownsville. Nearly three-quarters of them are female -- “boys, please apply” – says Winkfield.

The snazzy new building is shared with Spring Creek Community School and a District 75 program.  Each school has its own floors, art rooms and science labs. There is a well-stocked shared library, with an area reserved for college research and resources, a double-sized gymnasium, a workout center that can hold an entire class, two cafeterias, dedicated music rooms and practice rooms where a fulltime music teacher which instruct in both instrumental and vocal music.

The “breathtaking, colorful” auditorium seats 600 people. “That’s the ‘aha’ exciting thing we take people to see first,” said Winkfield. “The building was designed very thoughtfully” with principals having input in everything, she said.

Most classes have only 20 students; seminar-style English and math classes have even fewer. Students are on a first-name basis with their teachers, many of whom are available after hours by e-mail or cell phone. Teachers have common planning time, and meet regularly to discuss curriculum, classroom strategies and students' progress. Many have been with the school since it opened and all but four in the staff of 40 made the move from Williamsburg to East New York. Teachers receive training in everything from how to conduct class discussions to how to handle discipline problems in a room dedicated to professional development , outfitted with computers and a SmartBoard. Students get the same support from teachers – both in class and in structured advisory sessions.

Most students come in unprepared to do high school work. They catch up quickly in English with intensive reading and writing courses but they struggle in math. Most score lower than 80 on the math Regents, below what is needed to avoid remediation in college.

Special education: There are integrated co-teaching classes and some students are in small self-contained classes for part of the day.

After school: Numerous clubs include Double-Dutch, film soccer baseball, a student newspaper, karaoke and cheerleading. There are no varsity sports teams.

Admissions: Limited unscreened. Middle school students will have preference in admission to the high school.

College admissions: About 75 percent of the graduates go to four year colleges. A few have received “full rides” to the principal’s alma mater, Lewis and Clark in Oregon. While most attend CUNYs and SUNYs, others go further afield to the University of Wisconsin, Spellman and Howard. (Pamela Wheaton, interview & web reports, August 2012)


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