New performing arts center
Sprawling Susan Wagner High School is a well-run school that serves college-bound children, as well as those who plan to enter the U.S. Air Force or join the family business as a carpenter or an electrician. Surrounded by single-family homes and well-tended athletic fields, Wagner looks suburban, but it grapples with big-city overcrowding.
The school has several hundred more students than it was designed for, and class size pushes up against the limit of 34 students, according to parent coordinator Debbi Rabinowitz. Despite the crowding, Wagner does well on the city's various measures, boasting good attendance and a high graduation rate.
Even so, the school’s large size can be intimidating for new students. “We try to encourage them freshmen year to attach themselves to something extracurricular,” Rabinowitz says. Along with a wide selection of courses, including Latin, opera, journalism, forensics and an array of Advanced Placement classes, Wagner has an active student government and about three dozen sports teams.
It also helps that the school is divided into 15 learning centers, or small communities, each with its own dean, assistant principal and guidance counselor.
Students may apply to eight different programs within the school; three are screened for grades and attendance (Academy of Finance, Law & Politics, Scholar’s Academy) and three require an audition (music, visual arts, theater). There is some overlapping; for example, a kid in band or theatrical arts might also be in the Scholar’s Academy, Rabinowitz says.
The school day is slightly staggered, with some students arriving at 7:00 a.m. and others at 8:15. Most students have an eight-period day, with seniors generally having the earlier schedule.
The school has a beautiful new performing arts center (it was featured in Architect magazine). It is adjacent to the school building and features a black box theater and music and dance studios. The theater program produces large-scale musicals—with complex sets built in the carpentry shop, and actors in full costume—such as Les Miserables, Grease and Gypsy, and dramas like Brighton Beach Memoirs.
Wagner accommodates children who learn at different speeds. Most classes include students with a range of academic abilities, but teachers frequently break classes into groups according to skill level. There is a Saturday program for students who did not pass Regents exams.
Classrooms used to be largely traditional—desks in rows, instructor at the front. But “we’ve moved away from that model,” Rabinowitz says. Desks now face one another so students can engage in discussions, she adds.
On school surveys, most students say they feel safe in school. They must swipe their identification cards when they enter the cafeteria and then sign out if they wish to go to the bathroom. There is little tolerance for lateness, and deans patrol hallways making sure students get to class on time.
The school has significantly reduced its number of suspensions over the years. “The staff is getting better training on how to proceed with students in an argumentative state,” Rabinowitz says.
Former Wagner history teacher David Cugini took over as principal in 2017, when longtime principal Gary Giordano retired. Cugini has also worked as assistant principal at Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School.
Wagner has a widely praised college and career office with a full-time counselor and two other staff members. Counselor Jessica O'Connell says she works with all students, from those applying to Yale to those seeking a GED, doing “whatever it is I can do to help them find their slot.” Roughly 75 percent of Wagner graduates go on to college, with four-year SUNY and CUNY schools the most popular choices.
The school has one learning center, Vocational Preparatory, geared toward students with severe disabilities. These students do not take Regents classes. They are integrated into school life as much as possible, Rabinowitz says.
ADMISSIONS: Staten Island priority. Eight of the 15 learning centers accept zoned and unzoned students based on various criteria including middle school grades and test scores, and auditions. Students who are admitted to the zoned program choose their specialty before starting 9th grade. (Lydie Raschka, phone interview, March 2018)
Safety & Vibe
Faculty & Staff
Advanced Foreign Language
AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science
AP/IB Math or Science
Programs & AdmissionsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
Academy of Finance
This program connects high school students with the world of financial services and personal finance, offering a curriculum that covers banking and credit, financial planning, global finance, securities, insurance, accounting, and economics. This varied content gives our students an education that is both current and in-line with industry standards. Students are able to supplement their knowledge with a host of work-based learning opportunities, including paid internships their junior year.
Air Force Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps
This program aims to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill responsibility, character, and self-discipline, and provide instruction in air and space fundamentals, leadership, and wellness. The program is grounded in the Air Force core values of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.
Law & Politics Institute
This program provides students with a four year sequence that engages them in coursework that is focused on how our society is shaped by the laws that govern it.
This program provides students of outstanding ability and potential with an enriched program that emphasizes inquiry, critical thinking, and research skills.
As the specially selected "Chancellor's Arts Designated High School" for Staten Island, music students are eligible to receive a special Chancellor's Endorsed Arts Diploma. The following courses are offered within the Music sequence: Wind Ensemble, Symphonic, Concert, Prelude, Beginning, Jazz, Marching Bands, Advanced, Intermediate, Beginning Guitar Ensembles, Concert, Mixed, Intermediate Chorus, and Composition. Students will perform in multiple concerts, festivals, and events each year.
As the specially selected "Chancellor's Arts Designated High School" for Staten Island, visual arts students are eligible to receive a special Chancellor's Endorsed Arts Diploma. The Visual Arts program encourages students to reach their potential through the creation of original work. The following courses are offered within the Visual Arts sequence: Painting, Portfolio, Advanced Drawing, Beginning Drawing, Graphic Design, Digital Photography, Basic Art, and Art History.
As the specially selected "Chancellor's Arts Designated High School" for Staten Island, theater students are eligible to receive a special Chancellor's Endorsed Arts Diploma. The following courses are offered within the Theater sequence: Basic Acting, Advanced Acting, Musical Theater, Directing, Playwriting, and Theater Production. Student performance opportunities include: the Spring Musical, Show Choir, Winter Musical, Spooktacular, SING, Original Works by New Writers, and more.
As the specially selected 'Chancellor's Arts Designated High School' for Staten Island, dance students are eligible to receive a special Chancellor's Endorsed Arts Diploma. The dance program is a comprehensive course of study that includes training in Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Horton Technique, and Limon Technique.
Susan E. Wagner High School ACES 15:1 Program
Comprehensive academic program.
OfferingsFrom the 2021 High School Directory
French, Italian, Latin, Spanish
Advanced Placement (AP) courses
AP United States History, AP English Language and Composition, AP Psychology, AP U.S. Government and Politics, AP Calculus AB, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, AP Physics 1, AP World History: Modern
Boys PSAL teams
Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Football, Handball, Indoor Track, Lacrosse, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling
Girls PSAL teams
Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Cross Country, Flag Football, Golf, Gymnastics, Handball, Indoor Track, Lacrosse, Outdoor Track, Soccer, Softball, Swimming, Table Tennis, Tennis, Volleyball
Coed PSAL teams