The Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters

339 MORRIS AVENUE
BRONX NY 10451 Map
Phone: (718) 401-4891
Website: Click here
Admissions: District 7 limited unscreened; HS: priority to continuing 8th graders
Wheelchair accessible
unzoned
Noteworthy
Principal: JEFFREY GARRETT
Neighborhood: South Bronx
District: 7
Grade range: 06 thru 12
Parent coordinator: LISA MONGE

What's special:

Chance to travel overseas, terrific college office

The downside:

Awkwardly shared building

Middle School Stats

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High School Stats

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Our review

 At the Bronx Academy of Letters, students have a chance to visit foreign countries, study in California or New Hampshire, and take part in seminars with a professional writer—called a “writer in residence.” Students plant vegetables in a garden and sell them at a farm stand.

They complete imaginative projects on a wide range of topics such as obesity, teen suicide, incarceration rates, tornados or world religions. The projects, called exhibitions, culminate in oral presentations to a panel of adults each spring.

“It helps us practice speaking in front of judges,” a senior girl said.

Founded as a high school in 2003, the school added middle school grades in 2007 and now serves children in grades 6 to 12.

The school has an advisory board which raises money for a wide range of enrichment activities. Students have gone to Durban and Capetown, South Africa, and Bogota, Colombia, for several weeks. Some have attended summer school at Philip Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH, a private boarding school. Others have taken summer courses at the University of California at Berkeley.

The focus of the curriculum is writing: 9th graders have two English classes—one in literature and one in writing—to make sure that they have a good foundation. A writer-in-residence works at the school part-time and leads a seminar for students. The school also offers advanced math and science classes, including AP Calculus and AP Environmental Science.

The school has a high graduation rate and a good record sending students to college. It has a full-time college counselor. About half the graduates go to two-year colleges, and half go to four-year-colleges, said college counselor Kate Irving. Top students have been admitted to Colby College, University of Rochester, and Renssellaer Polytechnic Institute.

Housed in the former IS 183 building, Bronx Academy of Letters has undergone turmoil in recent years. The founding principal, Joan Sullivan, left mid-year in 2009 and was replaced by assistant principal Anna Hall. Hall, who publicly criticized the notion of teacher tenure and who got low marks from teachers on the Learning Environment Survey, left in 2012 to take a job at StudentsFirstNY, the state’s spinoff of Michelle Rhee’s national education advocacy group. She was replaced by Jeffrey Garrett, a former teacher at the school and graduate of the Harvard School of Education.

The disruption caused by change in principals was compounded by a battle over space with a charter school, Success Academy Bronx 1, which moved into the building in 2011.

The middle school classrooms of Bronx Academy of Letters were forced to move to make way for Success Academy. The middle school classrooms had been located directly above the high school. Although the layout in the cinder block building was awkward, the classrooms were at least next to each other and the school had a sense of its own space within the larger building.

When the charter school moved in, the middle school classrooms of Bronx Academy of Letters were moved the other side of the building, which is also shared with a District 75 school for disabled children and another middle school, MS 203 (which is closing because of poor performance). The fact that the middle school and high school classrooms are no longer connected has made the awkward layout of the building even more awkward, Garrett said.

 “There was a lot of parent anger and outrage,” he said.

Special education: The school has a large range of special education services, including counseling, speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, self-contained classes and team-teaching classes.

Admissions: District 7 choice for middle school. Limited unscreened for high school. About half the 8th graders stay on for high school. (Clara Hemphill, October 2013)

 

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