Susan E. Wagner High School
STATEN ISLAND NY 10314 Map
Susan E. Wagner High School
Surrounded by single-family homes, well-tended athletic fields and streets lined with students' cars, sprawling Susan Wagner High School looks like a suburban school. But Wagner grapples with a big city over-crowding problem.
The school has several hundred more students than it was designed for, and class size pushes up against the contractual limit of 34 students. Despite the crowding, Wagner gets high marks for safety and does well on the city's various measures, consistently getting A's on its progress reports.
"One of the challenges for big schools is breaking it down for kids to make sure no one gets lost in the shuffle," says longtime principal Gary Giordano. With that in mind, Wagner is divided into 15 learning centers, or small communities, each with its own theme, assistant principal and guidance counselor.
Students may take classes with students from other centers, and many of the specialized offerings, such as music or introduction to art, are open to all.
The school day is slightly staggered with some students arriving at 7:25 am and others at around 8:15. Most students have an eight-period day, with seniors generally having the earlier schedule. There is an extended day program for students who have failed Regents exams.
Wagner is racially diverse, reflecting the surrounding community. In the large, bright cafeteria, kids seem to mix, but unfortunately this diversity does not show up in all classrooms. The honors Scholars Academy is predominately white and Asian, while other programs have a larger percentage of black and Latino students.
The quality of classes and student work varies widely. A 10th grade global history class was lively and informative, as students, studying the drive for African independence, discussed nationalism, in the U.S. as well as Africa. In some other classes, such as an introductory language course, attention lagged, with several students clearly distracted or whispering to one another. Classrooms are largely traditionally organized -- desks in rows, instructor at the front -- but lessons can be innovative and creative.
Arts classes in particular seemed energetic. In the school black box theater, students walked through a scene from "Our Town," doing it repeatedly in response to guidance from their animated teacher. The concert band focused intently on practicing for an upcoming performance.
Most classes include students with a range of academic abilities. Wagner requires all entering students to take a learning style survey and frequently breaks classes into groups, according to either skill level or learning style putting all students who like to build things in one group, for example. Students coming in with low English or math scores are placed in smaller classes until they pass the Regents exam. There is also an extended day program for students who don't pass Regents.
Giordano says the school firmly adheres to the "broken windows approach," holding students accountable for even minor disciplinary lapses. In 2011-12, Wagner gave out about 700 suspensions, the highest number in the city. Three infractions of even relatively minor rules, such as the ban on hats, result in detention; a student who skips detention faces suspension.
Students going to the cafeteria at lunch must swipe their cards and then sign out if they wish to go to the bathroom. There is little tolerance for lateness, and deans patrol hallways making sure students get to class on time. There are few, if any students in corridors during class.
Students seem relatively satisfied. "Every school has its negative points but it's one of the better schools on Staten Island," a sophomore told us.
Along with a wide selection of courses, including Latin, opera, journalism, forensics and an array of Advanced Placement classes, Wagner has an active student government, abour three dozen sports teams and many extracurricular activities. Students have taken trips to Spain, France, Italy and Costa Rica.
"The opportunities are here," says Parent Coordinator Debbi Rabinowitz, "Whether they all take advantage of it is hard to say, but you try to find something to pique their interest."
College: College Now courses are widely available. The school has a widely praised college and career office with a full-time counselor and two other staff members. Counselor Jessica O'Connell says she works with all students, from those applying to Yale to those seeking a GED, doing "whatever it is I can do to help them find their slot." About 82 percent of Wagner graduates go on to college, with four-year SUNY and CUNY schools the most popular choices.
Special education: The school has one learning center -- Vocational Preparatory -- geared toward students with severe disabilities. These students do not take Regents classes but are integrated into school life as much as possible, Giordano says. The school has about 70 team teaching classes as well as self-contained classes for students with special needs. The self-contained classes all have two teachers so the class can be larger -- and therefore seem more like a "regular" class -- and to allow teachers to cover for one another.
Admission: Staten Island priority. Eight of the 15 learning centers accept zoned and unzoned students based on various criteria including middle schools grades and test scores and auditions. Students who are admitted to the zoned program choose their specialty before starting 9th grade.(Gail Robinson, April 2013)