Student artwork from the High School of Language and Innovation
Zamir* was a 12th grade student, originally from Albania. He had come to New York with his older sister when he was in the 10th grade, and hadn’t seen his parents for almost 3 years. His sister did her best to support him, but didn’t seem prepared to manage a teenage boy. She also had her hands full with a toddler and work.
Zamir developed a habit of coming extremely late to school, if he came at all. My assistant principal Shira and I had a meeting with him. We tried the usual motivations: “What do you want to do after high school?” and “Think of going back to Albania and showing your parents your high school diploma.”
In the past, Zamir would respond, “Yeah,” or “OK,” but something was different this time. He spoke honestly: “Those things don’t motivate me,” he said. Continue reading
This past August, we celebrated our school’s highest graduation rate ever: 83%. For us, this was a triumph; the highest percentage before this point had been 74%. Other things looked good at the end of the year, too: our 9th graders had done well on their exams, attendance increased, and suspensions went down.
This school year, other things have looked promising as well: we started a “hallway countdown” that’s leading to kids getting to class faster, our school is cleaner, and the overall atmosphere seems brighter, more positive.
Yet, as I was bragging about my successes to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they said, “We’re hearing alarm bells when you say, ‘My 9th grade is in great shape.’ Continue reading
My school, the High School of Language and Innovation, is a school for newcomer immigrant English Language Learners that was founded in 2011. We had our first graduating class in 2015. This week, we graduated our fourth class, the class of 2018.
As I listened to the students’ speeches at graduation, I was struck by how many of the students had experienced our intended vision for the school: “We learned to work together as a team in order to learn English,” “We got to make friends with people from diverse cultures.”
However, even as I enjoyed the graduation, something was on my mind: 90% of our girls graduated. 51% of our boys graduated.*
Last year, our graduation rate was 68% in June, and increased to 73% in August.
This year, our graduation rate is 60% in June, eight points below last year.
I confess, I would love to have handed diplomas to every student. For a week or so, I’ve felt as though the dog ate my optimism. I would like it back, please.
Yet it’s hard to stay uninspired for long when I come into contact with students, or listen to just about anyone. The other day, an 11th grade student from another high school in the Bronx called me on my cell phone to ask if she could take geometry in my school over the summer. I didn’t know her and don’t know how she got my number but was inspired by her research, resourcefulness, and chutzpah. Continue reading