Wednesday, February 04, 2009


smf notes that in NYC, a High School of 2,251 students is a “behemoth” . In LAUSD a school of that size might be considered “optimal” – or (with tempered sarcasm) a possible host for Prop 39 charter co-location.
See chart following for largest schools in LAUSD.


February 3, 2009 -- Louis D. Brandeis High School, an Upper West Side behemoth that takes in some of the city’s most disadvantaged students and has struggled year after year to bump up test scores and graduation rates, will be closed and replaced by three new small schools, the Department of Education announced on Tuesday.

Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times -Louis D. Brandeis High School, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, will be closed as part of a drive to break up large schools.

Brandeis, with 2,251 students, is an increasingly endangered species of school — a large general-curriculum institution rich in course offerings but short on personal interaction. These big high schools, once staples of the city’s educational map, have been overhauled by the Bloomberg administration, and other urban education reformers who promote more intimate learning environments as an antidote to poor performance.

Opened in 1965, Brandeis is the 15th school to be marked for closing this year; others include the Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities in Chelsea, another large high school. Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took over control of the city school system in 2002, 96 schools have been ordered to close, including more than two dozen large high schools.

In Manhattan, excluding elite schools like Stuyvesant and Hunter, there are now just a handful of traditional, comprehensive high schools.

“The size of schools can be a contributing factor to the inability to turn around,” said John White, who helps oversee the school-closing process for the Department of Education.

Brandeis is set to be replaced by three other schools — one to prepare students for careers in alternative energy, one for students who are at least two years behind in earning credits, and one focused on college preparation. Current students will continue at the school, which will graduate its last class in 2012.

The decision to close the school provoked anger among some Brandeis teachers. Many believed that the school was on track to a renaissance under the leadership of its energetic principal, Eloise Messineo, who had earned praise for taming a school known for unsafe hallways and an unruly student population.

The school itself seems almost an anachronism; a brown-brick building on 84th Street near Columbus Avenue with grates over its windows and security guards scanning its perimeter.

While Dr. Messineo, who did not respond to telephone messages on Tuesday, was lauded for changing the school’s atmosphere since her arrival in 2002, she was unable to push up perennially low graduation rates (33 percent in 2008) and consistently low marks on state Regents exams. Brandeis received a D on its annual report card from the city last fall, and a C the year before.

The school serves a large number of special education students and English-language learners; two-thirds of its students are Hispanic and 28 percent are black.

The vast majority of students do not live in the comfortable neighborhood that surrounds the school; they commute from the poorest regions of the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn. Many of them landed there after failing to list any preference on their school choice forms, and many start ninth grade years behind in reading.

Dwijen Bhattacharjya, a teacher of English as a second language, said that replacing Brandeis with three smaller schools would do little to help.

“The reason why students don’t succeed in this kind of inner-city high school is certainly not the size,” he said outside the school. “It’s because the students we have come from socioeconomically disadvantaged families, making it impossible for them to get any homework help.”

He added, “Do you think the students will be motivated if they know it’s a sinking ship now?”

Diane Volk, who has volunteered at Brandeis for eight years, establishing a classical music program, said the school had made strides from the days when fire alarms would go off regularly and screaming students would fill the hallways.

“There was cacophony and confusion and a lack of discipline, a palpable hostility and a meanness about the corridors,” Ms. Volk said of her early years there. “Now, it’s a happy school. It runs like the best public school. The kids are polite, people greet you, they shake your hand.”

As the school confronted its safety issues, Ms. Volk brought in string quartets to entertain students as they passed through the metal detectors and the line of security guards at the entrance.

Brittani Nelson, 16, an 11th grader with an interest in law, said she thought small schools had promise. She feels that such a change “separates the bad kids from the good kids, the kids who actually want to learn.”

City Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, said her neighborhood was losing an institution with the closing of Brandeis. Among its alumni is Leonel Fernández, the president of the Dominican Republic.

Ms. Brewer said she would ask the Department of Education to create a “rigorous” new small school at Brandeis that would draw children from her neighborhood, rather than the schools that would occupy it under the Department of Education’s plan.

Across the country, the small-schools movement has gained traction with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has devoted millions of dollars to the creation of more than 2,000 small schools.

Few wide-ranging studies of the effectiveness of small schools have been conducted, but according to data provided by the Department of Education, new small schools have higher percentages of ninth-graders earning at least 10 credits in their first year, a key predictor of graduation.

Mr. Gates himself has acknowledged shortcomings of small schools. At a conference of educators in November, he said that new small schools scored lower, on average, on reading and math tests than other schools in their districts.

“Simply breaking up existing schools into smaller units often did not generate the gains we were hoping for” across the nation, he said, but he added that some small schools in New York City had outperformed district averages in graduation rates.

Mathew R. Warren contributed reporting.

Largest  High Schools in LAUSD (Grades 9-12) 2005-2006




Belmont Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Theodore Roosevelt Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


James A. Garfield Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


John H. Francis Polytechnic

Los Angeles Unified


John Marshall Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Bell Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Los Angeles Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


James Monroe High

Los Angeles Unified


Wilson High

Long Beach Unified


John C. Fremont Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


San Fernando Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Huntington Park Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


North Hollywood Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Manual Arts Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Grover Cleveland High

Los Angeles Unified


El Camino Real Senior High

Los Angeles Unified


Granada Hills Charter High

Los Angeles Unified


No comments: