Dewitt Clinton High School
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Dewitt Clinton High School
One of the few remaining large schools in the Bronx, DeWitt Clinton has a demanding college prep program, successful sports teams and a proud history. It also struggles with poor attendance and a low graduation rate overall.
On our visit in spring 2013, Dewitt Clinton was poised for change. The city is shrinking the school, which once had almost 5,000 students, to 2,200, to make way for two new small schools -- Bronx Collaborative High School and World View High School. Longtime Principal Geraldine Ambrosio retired in June 2013 and was replaced by another seasoned educator and administrator, Santiago Taveras.
Taveras has extensive experience as a principal, having presided over South Bronx High School during its phase-out and the founding of both Banana Kelly High School and the Urban Assembly Academy for Careers in Sports. He then went to Tweed where he played a key role in devising the Quality Review process for city schools and served as the city's first deputy chancellor for community engagement. Taveras told Gotham Schools he hopes to improve technology at Clinton, enhance professional development and boost morale.
The school is proud of its Macy Honors Program, which provides a challenging academic curriculum to talented black and Latino students, most of whom do not pass the test for the specialized high schools. Within Macy, there is an even more selective program called "Einstein." Nearly all Macy students graduate on time, and many go on to excellent colleges.
All students at DeWitt Clinton may choose from a wide range of classes, such as Latin and B/C calculus as well as arts course. About 160 students take physics. High schools offering such high level courses are a rarity in the Bronx.
DeWitt Clinton also offers a business enterprise program and a health professions program, where students do internships, as well as Air Force ROTC. A class in working with animals, a successor to the now discontinued animal professions program, is run in partnership with the Bronx Zoo. The school fields a wide variety of sports teams and has won many championships.
In 2012 the school launched a concerted effort to ramp up learning for all students, trying to make classes more interesting by offering more hands on activities and opportunities for students to interact with one another. Another initiative -- the Governor's Program -- is aimed at helping students in danger of not getting beyond 9th grade. They get extra instruction, counseling, frequent parental contact and other assistance. In its first two years, Ambrosio said, this effort kept about half of the student in school.
DeWitt Clinton gets a particularly challenging student population. When the Department of Education closed other large high schools, an increasing number of difficult students ended up at Clinton, including 17 and 18-year-old 9th graders, as well as some English language learners not literate in their native language. We met one student who has a child in the school's day care center and was pregnant again. While a police officer at the school says Clinton has turned the security situation around and students told us they generally feel safe, many responding to the Learning Environment Survey cited gang activity.
We saw students straggle so late into one class that the teacher was forced to delay the film on art history that she had planned to show. In another class where students were supposed to work on college or job letters, many weren't doing anything. On the other hand, an AP U.S. history class on essay writing evolved from what could have been a dreary test prep exercise into a lively talk about how to write a convincing essay on Harry Truman's presidency and then into a discussion on the current situation in Korea.
The historic building could use a sprucing up. Hallways are dimly lit; some tables and other equipment are beat up or tagged with graffiti and classrooms in the basement are somewhat dark and depressing. Graduation rates and attendance levels are low.
Despite the metal detectors and substantial police presence, DeWitt Clinton seems to take a looser approach to discipline than many of the city's big high schools -- students can wear caps, for example, and the administration tries to limit suspensions.
Beyond classes, the school offers an array of services, including the day care center, a clinic run by Montefiore Hospital and dental care. "We provide anything they need. The idea is to act as a safety net," the nurse at the clinic said.
Students told us that, whatever Clinton's reputation, a student can learn there. "People say it’s a bad school but it’s not a bad school. It all depends on the kind of person you want to be," one girl in the Macy program said.
Special education: There are self-contained and team teaching classes. It offers work-study programs for students with special needs.
College: Macy graduates go to CUNY and top SUNY schools, as well as private colleges such as Syracuse University, University of Rochester, Fordham, College of New Rochelle, Iona and St Johns. A counselor guides these students through the process and, on the day of our visit, made arrangements to meet with an Albanian immigrant father in the hopes she could convince him to allow his high-achieving daughter to attend college upstate.
Admission: The school screens students for The Macy Program on the basis of grades, test scores, and middle school attendance and punctuality and tries to admit those with a "good work ethic." The business and health programs select students with a range of academic records using the educational option method. For all programs, Bronx residents have priority. (Gail Robinson, May 2013)