Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design

Phone: (718) 388-1260
Website: Click here
Admissions: Limited unscreened, Brooklyn priority
Neighborhood: Williamsburg/ Greenpoint
District: 14
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: LAI SIN CHU

What's special:

Preservation arts program; students learn drafting and computer design.

The downside:

No music; Spanish is only foreign language.

The InsideStats



Our review

Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design is one small school that lives up to its theme. Students follow a rigorous four year curriculum in preservation arts, engineering and architecture, from drafting, mixing mortar and concrete to learning sophisticated computer programs used by professional architects. The school accepts students of all abilities and gets them to succeed.

In 9th grade students begin drawing with t-squares, and are introduced to the computer design program CAD. In later years, they get experience working with electrical wiring systems and building with different materials, including concrete, stone and wood.

"What makes us unique is we have the studio experience," said Principal Gill Cornell, himself an English teacher who came to Architecture as assistant principal in 2008. A graduate of Staten Island Tech High School, he first wanted to become an engineer like his father, and the school's theme resonates with him. When he became principal in 2009, he introduced the historic preservation program that he knew from his time at Brooklyn High School of the Arts. The historic preservation curriculum is supported by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and it quickly brought in paid internships for students, he said.

Science courses are interwoven with the school's theme. In a building science class, juniors travel locally and to Philadelphia to look at building deterioration and learn about upkeep, taking photos of what they see. "Look out the window, that's your laboratory," a science teacher with a PhD in cell biology told his class.

As a limited unscreened school, Architecture gets students of all abilities, including many with special needs who are integrated in the classrooms. There are a handful of AP courses, including art, calculus and English. The visual arts program is particularly strong and some projects are connected to the building trades and restoration.

Struggling students are taught by the most experienced teachers and the two assistant principals. Students who fail a course repeat it in "night school", held in the afternoon from about 3 to 5 p.m.

There is no music program, and Spanish is the only foreign language. Cornell is working to get the school certified as a CTE (Career and Technical Education school).

High attendance is achieved by offering incentives and a staff member who calls and send letters to every family whose child is absent or late to school. The principal also credits the friendly environment. "If this feels like a home to them, we get consistency in the classroom," he said.

The graduation rate is high and nearly 90 percent of graduates go to either two or four year colleges, including art and technical schools close to home, the principal said. By the Education Department's calculation, using Regents scores as a baseline, just over 5 percent of graduates were deemed college-ready. But, says the principal, 50 percent stay in college, and that's about the city average.

There is no dedicated college counselor but there are three guidance counselors, each of whom follows a grade for four years.

The Van Arsdale building is shared with Brooklyn Prep and Williamsburg Prep. Each school has its own floor with science labs on the top floor. Principals meet weekly but if an issue arrives, "it's just a two minute walk to see another principal," said Cornell. Shared facilities include the gym, a dance studio, a small cafeteria and an auditorium. Students may play on the same sports teams and say they get along well.

Located in an increasingly safe and gentrifying area of Williamsburg, student must nevertheless pass through metal detectors on their way into the building. The principal approves, saying it keeps the school safe.

In an attempt to boost parent involvement – an average PTA meeting has only about 8 parents -- parents are expected to collaborate with their children on in-school projects twice a year.

Admissions: Limited unscreened. Priority to Brooklyn. (Pamela Wheaton, April 2012)

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