Marta Valle High School
MANHATTAN NY 10002 Map
Marta Valle High School
Marta Valle is a small high school with a focus on the arts and a range of extra programs to help students with leadership skills, writing, relationships, getting ready for college and more. Over the years the school has struggled with poor attendance and low test scores. Principal Mimi Fortunato, an educator with over 30 years of experience, is working to move past the school's former labels as "persistently dangerous" and a "School in Need of Improvement." She has begun to add more community partnerships and to build up the arts. "We have created a really unique home for a wide range of students who haven't necessarily bought into the idea of high school," she told us.
Creative talents are showcased in an annual film festival, a gallery show, a style show and music and dance performances. "We have a creative kind of student in our school," said Alicia Carlson, coordinator of student activities. Kids said they enjoy electives like dance, marine biology, video production, or culinary arts in the professional kitchen. "We are really good at building community and making everybody feel at home," said Carlson.
Students are supported in a variety of ways. Small groups meet with teachers three times a week to address social and academic concerns. A group called the Relationship Abuse Prevention Program comes in to promote healthy relationships. Teachers follow a ladder of referrals for students who misbehave. Students get extra help with writing through collaborations with Williams College, Sarah Lawrence and NYU. Teachers are available during "Café Club" (lunch) as well as before, during and after school, and there is help offered on Saturday too. Students can work in the library beyond school hours to catch up on missing credits. Uniforms are not required but there is a dress code to ensure no one wears cut-offs, ripped jeans, do-rags or hats. "There have been a lot of positive changes in terms of behavior and academics," said the dean. In 2011, the four-year graduation rate still fell short of the city averages but the six-year graduation rate had increased by 14 percentage points since Fortunato arrived in 2009.
Still, attendance is low. Students arrive with many needs and usually are performing below grade level. On the 2011 Learning Environment Survey, close to half of teachers said that order and discipline were not maintained at the school and that they do not get the support they needed to address behavior problems. A similar number said the principal was not an effective manager.
School leaders are trying to offer opportunities for higher performing students. Bright learners can take college courses on Saturdays at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. There are honors classes and Advanced Placement courses in calculus, physics and English. Select seniors go though training with the Princeton Center for Leadership to learn how to mentor incoming 9th graders. Mentors might lead a session on the importance of not missing school; an important theme since the school is working to boost its attendance rate.
Only about one-third of the families at Marta Valle live locally, and this makes parent involvement challenging. The school offers monthly workshops, has a parent resource room and hosts breakfasts with the principal. The school's well-organized website has up-to-date details on classes, sports and other extracurricular activities.
College Admissions: Most students who graduate go to a CUNY school or join the military. A full-time college office is staffed for ten periods each day. A community coordinator (a former college advisor) helps out, as does a teacher who assists for part of each day. Monthly college trips, workshops and an annual college fair allow students to explore possibilities. A partnership with College for Every Student offers additional expertise.
Special Education: The school has a large number of special education students. Special education teachers support children in self-contained classrooms and in classrooms that mix general and special needs students with two teachers. "We work on building independence, on creating the right environment for individual learning styles," said a special education teacher.
Admissions: Educational option: half of the incoming class is randomly assigned by the Department of Education and the other half is selected on the basis of seventh grade final report card grades, attendance, and guidance recommendations. The educational option formula is designed to ensure a mix of low, average and high achieving students. Priority is given to District 1 students. (Lydie Raschka, interviews at the high school fair, October 2011.)