Secondary School for Law

237 7 AVENUE
Phone: (718) 832-4250
Website: Click here
Admissions: District 15 & Brooklyn priority
Principal: Oneatha Swinton
Neighborhood: Park Slope
District: 15
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: DENISE COPELAND

What's special:

New AP classes and arts programs

The downside:

Awkward space, security concerns

The InsideStats


Our review

The Secondary School for Law, one of four schools in the John Jay building in Park Slops, has struggled since its founding in 2004. Now, the school boasts new classes and an increased focus on the arts. Its tiny, low-performing middle school is closing and staff can concentrate on preparing high school students for college. These and other changes, the principal hopes, will enable Law to finally become an academically competitive school for students from all over Brooklyn.

Principal Oneatha Swinton said that when she came to Law in September 2010 enrollment was down. The school had barely avoided a D on its Progress Report. The graduation rate had taken a precipitous drop, and students cut class and hung out in the halls.

She saw her job as "cleaning up and doing what I had to do" -- improving teaching and making classes more demanding. By all accounts, it did not go entirely smoothly. In the Learning Environment Survey for her first year, teachers gave the administration harsh marks. Half said they did not trust her.

But now Swinton says her efforts are paying off. The school added more training for teachers, its Progress Report scores have risen and Swinton says Law now "has a clear instructional vision." Swinton sponsors a staff appreciation dinner and says she considers the school “a family.” It still must contend with an awkward space, split between two floors in John Jay, a building that has had security and image problems.

On our visit we saw some innovative teaching. A 9th grade teacher used the Socratic method to challenge student assumptions about the death of Trayvon Martin. An animated 10th grade teacher engaged her students in a discussion of Dante's inferno, and a living environment teacher use paper bags to help student visualize bacteria. Five AP courses are offered.

Online teaching will allow the school to expand its language offering to French and Japanese, in addition to Spanish. The law program remains, with moot court, mock trials and a partnership with a law firm. But to attract and engage students who may have other interests, Swinton added a popular dance program and visual arts classes. She plans to offer violin and AP Studio Art and to give students the choice of a law or humanities track.

Law now has three deans -- two of whom who also teach. Along with Swinton, they carry walkie-talkies as they patrol the halls and urge students to go to class. They also serve as ad hoc guidance counselors, people students can speak to if they have a problem.

"The kids know I love them," Swinton says, "but they know I will tear them apart if they get crazy."

Students seem to like her too. “The principal is sweet and well-dressed. She sets a good example,” girls told us.

Despite metal detectors and heavy security at the building, many students said on the Learning Environment Survey that they do not feel safe. Much of the trouble apparently happens in the stairwells -- Law is divided between two floors -- and other shared areas of the building.

About 80 percent of graduates go to college, with most attending four-year schools, largely SUNYs and CUNYs. To help students navigate the application process, Law has a college counseling class that meets twice a week for 50 minutes. All seniors must fill out a CUNY application.

Students at Law can join the PSAL sports teams shared with Park Slope Collegiate and the Secondary School of Journalism, and the school offers its own activities as well.

Special education: Law is phasing out its self-contained special ed classes, replacing them with team-teaching classes.

Admission: Although the school gives priority to District 15 student and screens applicants for grades and attendance, it attracts few students from that district. Most students who apply are admitted. (Gail Robinson, April 2012)

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