Frank McCourt High School

Phone: (212) 362-2015
Website: Click here
Admissions: Selective; citywide
Principal: Danielle Salzberg
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
District: 3
Grade range: 09 thru 12

What's special:

Diverse school focused on writing with non-traditional courses.

The downside:

Metal detectors. Concern over integrated math and science curriculum.

The InsideStats


Our review

Frank McCourt is a small, selective high school with a diverse mix of students and an enterprising approach to learning. Students study writing as an independent subject, and math and science in a combined course. In the upper grades, students will have flexible schedules that will allow them to spend up to half their time off campus at internships and taking college courses.

The school shares space with four other schools in the Brandeis High School Campus building on Manhattan's Upper West side. It opened in 2010 with a ninth grade and is adding one grade a year until it reaches capacity serving grades 9 through 12. The school attracts students from all five boroughs.

Founding principal, Danielle Salzberg is a veteran of selective admission schools, having worked as an assistant principal at Millennium High School and as a teacher at Baruch High School. She also served a brief stint as principal of Khalil Gibran.

There's definitely a non-traditional bent to the curriculum. Instead of English, 9th and 10th graders take a double period of humanities, which combines literature and history. For instance, in 10th grade humanities, a class-wide reading of Lord of the Flies is tied into a unit on China's Cultural Revolution. Writing is taught in a separate class. Students compose essays, conduct interviews, and learn to take writing cues from literature, such as analyzing scene structure in Othello as a precursor to writing one-act plays.

Math and science is taught through an integrated curriculum known as ISM (Integrated Math and Science). Ninth grade ISM combines Living Environment and Algebra (with some geometry) and 10th grade combines Chemistry and Algebra II. Three days each week students take separate classes for math and science. Instruction on the remaining two days merges the subjects. Some parents have expressed concern that ISM will not prepare students for higher-level math. "In college, students are expected to make connections between math and science, but teenagers don't do that instinctively. They need to be shown it," said Salzberg who pointed out that the 10th grade ISM covers the concepts tested on the SAT II exams in math and chemistry.

The upper grade curriculum was still in development at the time of our visit, but Salzberg envisions that "it will look less like a traditional high school," with students spending time off campus at internships and taking classes at CUNY colleges. Though the school emphasizes writing and communications, students can pursue internships in other interests. "We've already spoken with a science lab about placing students," said Salzberg.

In classes we visited, students were calm and engaged. Many seemed at ease participating in class discussions. Students interviewed said that they have two to three hours of homework each night, "except when there's a big project due," said a 9th grader.

Students take classes in art and media and study a "world language", either Spanish in traditional classes or French, German, Latin or Mandarin online. Daily, small-group advisories blend independent reading time with skills-building activities. All students must fulfill community service requirements.

Parent involvement is good and growing in tandem with the school. The Parent Association fundraises to support student activities and trips. A parent committee is helping the administration set up the college advisory program for juniors and seniors.

After school: Students can participate in campus-wide PSAL sports teams and campus-wide clubs, such as art, dance, photography and Model UN, which are popular with Frank McCourt students, according to Salzberg. The school runs its own activities including the school newspaper, student leadership and an outdoors club.

Special education: The school has ICT (Integrated Collaborative Teaching) classes and SETTS.

Admissions: Open to students citywide. Admission decisions are based on a range of criteria including 7th grade transcripts, test scores, attendance and an interview. (Laura Zingmond, December 2011)

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