Landmark High School
MANHATTAN NY 10011 Map
Landmark High School
Founded in 1998 as one of the first small, alternative high schools in New York City, Landmark has stayed true to its progressive roots. Teachers design and write much of the curriculum, students assemble portfolios of their work and take only one Regents exams. Staff and students are on a first name basis and each teenager is assigned an advisor who follows them closely.
In the past few years, however, graduation and attendance rates have dropped as the school has struggled to meet the needs of a more challenging population. More students are not fluent in English and a majority arrive not able to read at grade level. Some are parents already. We met one 9th-grade mother of a one-year-old.
In 2009, Landmark left its cozy, but inadequate home in a midtown office building and moved into huge Bayard Rustin where it shares the building with six other schools. Trevor Naidoo, principal at the time of our visit, said attendance issues got worse after the move, as some students who had been coming from Washington Heights gave up on the long commute.
There also has been pressure from the city to step up performance, and Landmark gets low marks on its annual Progress Report. The emphasis on high stakes testing is "forcing a level of standardization that is the opposite of innovation," said Naidoo, who after eight years at the helm returned to his native South Africa at the end of the 2012 school year. "We're still subjected to the metrics. They don't count our portfolios. We've done well on those." [Caron Pinkus, formerly a staff developer at School of the Future, and assistant principal at the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women, became principal in 2012.]
Still, the attendance problems wear away at the school. We saw a steady stream of latecomers coming in the 19th street entrance where a school aide confiscated their student metro cards and gave them a choice of either after school or lunch hour detention. Landmark got low marks from teachers on "order and discipline" on the 2011 Learning Environment Survey. "It's not a dangerous school, [but] it's a tough crowd," said longtime history teacher Mark Ambrosino. "A lot of kids are learning their social skills." These skills are taught in 50-minute advisory sessions focused on team-building and bonding. "Every kid has one adult who is theirs. That's a huge thing," he said.
Once in class there are some interesting courses. Ambrosino, who has been at the school for 17 years, said because there is no pressure for students to pass state Regents exams teachers can "go in- depth and breadth. With portfolios they show us what they know and they learn how to find out what they don't know." He took his economics class to the Occupy Wall Street protest rather than just teach them a conventional supply and demand lesson.
In a course called NYC Experience, students take weekly excursions to places like Theodore Roosevelt's home on 20th Street and 5 Pointz, a mecca for graffiti artists in Long Island City. They do a final project of their writings and reflections based on these excursions. Students learn to play the guitar, drums, keyboard and bass from musicians from Midori and Friends.
Many students need more than four years to graduate. The school is proud that they can hold on to students who do eventually graduate. There was one 21-year-old senior. Students with significant attendance or academic issues may take credit recovery courses after school in conjunction with the Chinese American Planning Council.
The building could use a sprucing up. Dingy brown hallways on Landmark's floor are enlivened by illustrations painted by street artist James De La Vega prior to Landmark moving in. The building has two gyms but only one shared cafeteria. Some schools in the building allow "out" lunch but at Landmark students have to earn it, the principal said.
After school: PSAL sports teams are shared with other schools in the building. In addition, Landmark has several school teams such as a running club and a softball league for students and teachers. A basketball club meets at 6:30 a.m. Other activities include SAT prep and a drama club led by author Mo Ibrahim.
Special education: There are no self-contained classes "We got rid of those a long time ago, " said Naidoo. There are integrated co-teaching classes.
College admissions: The active college office, with a fulltime counselor plus a former counselor who comes back to volunteer, helps students apply to the HEOP program for low-income students. About 60 percent go to four-year colleges and 40 to two year. Popular choices include Long Island University, Brooklyn College, John Jay and SUNY Purchase. Some graduates have gone to Hamilton and Dartmouth. (Pamela Wheaton, March 2012)