Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts

215 WEST 114 STREET
MANHATTAN NY 10026 Map
Phone: (212) 749-5800
Website: Click here
Admissions: Audition
Wheelchair accessible
unzoned
selective
Principal: Tyee Chin
Neighborhood: Harlem
District: 3
Grade range: 06 thru 12
Parent coordinator: EUNICE PAUL

What's special:

School nurtures arts-minded students

The downside:

Low test scores

Middle School Stats

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High School Stats

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Our review

As its name implies, Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts is a combination middle and high school where students may study dance, drama, music, painting, photography and ceramics. Wadleigh also offers culinary training in its commercial-quality kitchen, as well as all core academic courses required for a high school diploma.

Principal Tyee Chin took over in February 2012 from Herma Hall, an interim principal who was the latest in a string of Wadleigh administrators to come and go. Jamaica-born Chin quickly earned praise from teachers, but he faces a number of challenges if Wadleigh is to achieve the academic success most principals strive for. Student test scores are far lower than they ought to be, and its tiny middle school has long been threatened with closure. (Chin would like to enlarge the middle school, but Department of Education officials “want to see progress first,” he said.)

Wadleigh (rhymes with “oddly”) is one of three public schools sharing a handsome landmark building that opened in 1903 as Wadleigh High School for Girls, New York’s first all-girl public high school. (Famous alumni include Jean Stapleton, Lillian Hellman and Isabel Sanford.) The all-girl school closed in 1954 and reopened in 1956 as a co-ed junior high. In its latest incarnation, Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts takes up the first and second floors, Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School is on the third and fourth floors, and Success Academy Harlem West (a middle school that opened in 2012) occupies the fifth floor. The three share the cafeteria, auditorium, gym and library.

Student enthusiasm is most visible in the arts, music and dance classes. We observed a drawing class where students working in small teams diligently sketched out cartoon characters for a competitive assignment in which the principal would select a winner. Distracted girls in a vocal music class snapped to attention when their teacher began leading them in warm-up scales. Dancers rehearsing in the mirrored studio worked up a sweat as they practiced choreographed moves for an upcoming performance.

In the kitchen, students learning from professional cooks baked challah bread and other autumn favorites. (Cooking classes are an elective, but Chin said he hopes to improve the curriculum so future graduates can earn a culinary CTE endorsement on their diplomas.)

Academic enthusiasm is less obvious elsewhere. Haphazardly arranged desks gave classrooms a sloppy look, and late-arriving students suffered no visible punishment. The school dress code (black and/or white clothing) is so liberally interpreted that the rules aren’t apparent. Administrators roamed the halls so they could dish out on-the-spot discipline (usually a stern lecture) to disruptive kids, yet loud voices regularly boomed down the historic hallways. Students and staff often moved at a speed that seemed to suggest a lack of urgency—perhaps a reaction to the overactive furnace that kept rooms at near-sauna temperatures. Test scores and graduation rates are low.

Wadleigh has produced a few notable performers: Graduate Joshua Johnson was a featured dancer on “Dancing With the Stars” and has appeared several times on “Ellen”.

College: Wadleigh graduates often go on to SUNY and CUNY universities, although some are regularly accepted to colleges such as Ithaca, Skidmore, Wake Forest and Penn State, according to guidance counselor Julia Garcia.

Special education: Wadleigh offers self-contained classes as well as integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms in which students with special needs are mixed with students from the general population. ICT classes feature two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education.

Admissions: Eighth-graders often audition, although a number of students are accepted without auditioning. Grades and attendance are weighed, although Chin said, “I rarely accept a child that has good grades but bad attendance.” (Skip Card, December 2012)

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