John Dewey High School

Phone: (718) 373-6400
Website: Click here
Admissions: Priority to District 21 residents/ed opt
Principal: Kathleen Elvin
Neighborhood: Flatlands/ Gravesend
District: 21
Grade range: 09 thru 12
Parent coordinator: KRISTINE GATTUSO

What's special:

Some good facilities; loyal alumni

The downside:

Tagged as a failing school by the city; uncertain future

The InsideStats


Our review

Once viewed as a beacon for progressive education in New York City, John Dewey has had a rough time in the last decade, culminating the city's efforts to shut Dewey and reopen it with a new name and a majority of new staff in September 2012. Legal action stopped that, so Dewey will keep the Dewey name and much of its faculty for the time being. Beyond that, though, much remains uncertain.

Established in 1969 as a pioneering school where students would take increased responsibility for their own education, Dewey boasts a spacious campus, performing arts facilities and rooms designed to encourage group work and independent study, all hallmarks of the Dewey model.

By most accounts, the essence of what made Dewey Dewey has eroded over the years, owing to budget cuts, staff changes and a different student body. Since the advent of metal detectors and other security measures, students have had limited use of the grassy grounds, and many of its facilities have gone largely unused.

On a 2007 visit, Insideschools found scant evidence of the school's progressive origins, with traditional classes, little student art and a lack of materials. While Dewey once accepted only students who chose it -- and its approach -- the closing of nearby Lafayette High School and other large schools sent many students with no particular interest in Dewey to the Gravesend school. Security and discipline problems increased, and the graduation rate declined. By the 2011-12 school year, fewer than 2,200 students attended a building designed to hold 2,800.

In 2010-11, Dewey was identified as a persistently low-achieving school, to the shock of those who remembered its halcyon days. It turned up on the chopping block in 2012 when the Bloomberg administration moved to close 24 schools, replace half their staffs, institute some program changes and reopen them with new names in September 2012. An arbitrator and the state Supreme Court blocked that move, meaning Dewey has survived----for now.

What the future holds, though, remains unclear. As it tried to shut Dewey, the Department of Education removed longtime--and frequently criticized--Principal Barry Fried. Many have praised interim Principal Kathleen Elvin for showing leadership and improving discipline. The school, which long prided itself on having no competitive teams, has recently introduced interscholastic sports. Some Dewey supporters point to the fact that it posts a college rate readiness well above the city average. Student safety and security appear to have improved substantially, according to Learning Environment Surveys.

Dewey continues to have strong supporters, including active and vocal alumni -- it recently won praise from graduate Spike Lee. Some students laud it for having committed teachers who provide them with needed individual attention. They also say that, even with its curtailed program, Dewey provides opportunities for students to pursue their own interests. It has offered a wide variety of classes, including Advanced Placement courses and classes on subjects including film, photography, Holocaust Studies and marine science.

The school now faces multiple challenges. By many accounts the upheavals at Dewey have divided the staff. Dewey, like the other so-called turnaround schools, did not appear in the 2012 directory provided to 8th graders applying to high schools; instead the directory has the name of the Departments of Education’s planned new school, now abandoned, Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus. Middle school students and their families may be reluctant to apply to a school that, fairly or unfairly, has been marked as failing. This could send more low-performing students to Dewey, making it harder for the school to thrive.

Special education: Dewey offers self-contained classes, team teaching and support services. It has also provides some special programs, including one in culinary education, and offers services to help students with IEPs select and apply for college and career education programs.

Admissions: Varies by program. The school has both screened programs and educational option programs designed to serve a range of abilities. (Gail Robinson, August 2012)

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