Norman Thomas High School
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Champion Virtual Enterprise team and mentors from top accounting firm.
Many students fall by the wayside, especially those not interested in the business curriculum.
APRIL 2011 UPDATE: Norman Thomas High School phased out and was replaced after years of poor performance. The phase out began in September 2011 and was completed in June 2014. The DOE co-located Unity Center for Urban Technologies and the Manhattan Academy for Arts and Language in the building. These schools share the building with Murray Hill Academy, which opened in September 2010.
In 2010, only 55 percent of students graduated on-time and though parents had some positive feedback about staff members and the schools extensive involvement with outside programs and organizations, many questioned why the school had been failing for so long and were interested in finding out what other options were available for their children. In February 2011 the Panel for Education Policy approved the DOEs proposal to phase out and replace the school due to persistently low performance and an inability to be transformed.
DECEMBER 2009 UPDATE: Philip M. Martin, Jr., a former assistant principal from Shenendehowa High School in upstate New York, succeeded Steve Satin as principal of Normal Thomas High School. Steve Satin became a Hearing Officer at the Department of Education.
MAY 2006 REVIEW: Situated in midtown Manhattan, Norman Thomas High School offers opportunities for kids who reach out and take them. At the same time, the school struggles with some common urban problems, including a high dropout rate and a group of students who enroll by default, rather than out of interest in the school's business-centered curriculum.
The situation was especially rocky for a few years in the early 2000's: after many large, failing schools were closed down, Norman Thomas, along with other relatively successful schools, was sent hundreds of extra studentssome 1,200 incoming freshman in 2004 in contrast to the usual 600. Hallways became crushingly crowded and student behavior worsened. After a brawl involving dozens of students in December 2004, teachers demanded extra security, and Norman Thomas became an "impact" schoola city designation for a dangerous school that requires extra security guards.
At the time of our visitafter three years of increasing enrollmentthe school was set to be receive a much more manageable number of 500 to 600 freshman for the 2006-07 school year, according to Principal Steve Satin. Virtually no one we spoke to on our visit considered Norman Thomas to be an unsafe school, and even the somewhat bored-looking security guards expressed bewilderment as to why the school was still on the Impact list.
Many other challenges remain for Satin, an experienced administrator who came to Norman Thomas in 2002, after a stint as an assistant principal at Stuyvesant. High on the list is improving attendance (it averaged below 75 percent during the 2005-06 school year) and stemming the dropout rate. Of the close to 1,000 incoming freshman in 2003, only about 400 made it to graduation in 2006. Still as low as this rate is, it is slowly improving.
To meet the needs of the many 9th graders who enter the school woefully unprepared from middle school, Satin has created "small learning communities" for 9th gradersclasses of 25 students who share the same group of teachers in rooms clustered together. That has cut down on hallway movement and allowed teachers a common planning time and greater familiarity with the kids. Teachers also observe one another's classes. The school has a high percentage of veteran teachers, along with a few newcomers. That's good for some subjects, not for others. Some teachers we saw during our visit appeared to be sticking to the old formula of lecturing from the front of the room, not the most engaging method for all students. As the learning communities progress, Satin said he expects this to change. English teachers, in particular, seemed more willing to experiment with other methods, especially in double-period classes. "I'd like to see more and more group work," with kids interacting with one another rather than "snoozing in the back of the room," Satin said.
The school is particularly proud of its business courses. Students may apply to one of four programs: accounting, marketing, business technology, and travel and tourism. The top-ranked accounting firm of Deloitte & Touche provides tutors, mentors, and internships. The school also boasts a city championship team in Virtual Enterprise, an international program in which students set up and run mock businesses. We sat in on interviews for one of the "firms," Not Just Flowers, Inc!, in which current seniors looked over resumes of job applicants for the next year's class and asked questions to gauge applicants' interest and abilities. It is up to them to decide which students are accepted into the program. The Virtual Enterprise students are among the most focused and successful in the school. Several non-Virtual Enterprise kids we spoke to were unable to say in which program they were enrolled.
There are 10 computer labs in the school, and we saw them in frequent use by classes, including a group of students we saw calculating net worth. Some students are certified as volunteers to prepare tax returns.
Students must pass through a metal detector to enter the building; many of them stumble past, putting their belts back on after they come through (the buckles set off alarms). Class changes are orderly and we saw very few stragglers in the hallways. The sprawling building, which boasts five gymnasiums, is mostly clean and well-maintained but could use better lighting.
There are very few high level math courses, striking for a school with a business focus. Part of the problem is a language barrier, according to the assistant principal of math; the Regents exams for the math specialitieslike all of the Regentsare in English, so students not proficient in the language are concerned that this will prevent them from doing well on the test.
According to the college counselor, about three-quarters of the graduates go on to four-year colleges; another 10 percent to two year colleges. A few enter the military and others join a construction program that leads to union membership. Syracuse University is one of the most popular private choices; recent valedictorians have attended SUNY Binghamton, Georgetown, and Cornell.
English as a Second Language: Some 400 students are classified as English Language Learners, many of them Spanish-speakers. The school offers numerous bilingual classes, both in Chinese and Spanish.
Special education: Norman Thomas has a high number of special education students, partly because many of the new small high schools have been exempt, in their first few years, from accepting students with special needs. Some students are enrolled in "self-contained" (special needs students only) classes; others enroll in general education classes but also receive special services. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2006)Read more