Monday, March 10, 2008

What schools in Queens are forced to do

By YOAV GONEN, Education Reporter, NY Post

When you're in charge of the city's biggest high school - with nearly 4,500 students jammed into a building meant for 2,600 - it takes some flexibility to make it work.

Judging by the performance of Francis Lewis HS in Fresh Meadows, Queens - including a remarkable 80 percent graduation rate, a more than 90 percent attendance rate, and 13 student applications for every open seat - fifth-year principal Jeffrey Scherr has been doing his stretching.

His space-saving tricks - by necessity, he argues - include holding the first lunch period at 9 a.m., allowing cheerleaders and dancers to practice in a hallway nook by the cafeteria, and holding so-called "Polar Bear Gym" outside unless the temperature falls below 35.

"There's nothing wrong with teenagers in athletic suits running track or playing handball" when it's cold, said Scherr, who has worked with the Department of Education for more than 35 years. "I just don't want to be in a position where I have to play 'Polar Bear English.' "

With the student population at more than 170 percent of the building's intended capacity, there aren't many space-saving measures left to be tried.

Walls have been added to divide classrooms in half; the teachers' lounge and woodshop have been converted into classrooms; and eight student-filled trailers are parked out back.

But the administration and staff still look for ways to make things more manageable.

During the infamous human traffic jams that crawl through hallways in between periods, Scherr pipes music over the school's public-address system to keep things moving.

Teachers and staff also encourage students to take advantage of the benefits of being at such an enormous school - including classes in 10 foreign languages and more than 30 sports teams and dozens of student-led clubs.

"There's something for everyone - which I think makes everyone more positive," said Trinel Torian, 18, a senior and editor of the school's newspaper. "I have no problem with the larger class sizes."

Many students said they also relish the school's diversity - which is nearly 50 percent Asian with a mix of white, black and Hispanic kids.

"I have friends of almost every ethnicity," said sophomore Marc McDonald, 15, who listed Egyptian, Irish, Chinese and Korean students among them.

"With so many people, you make so many friends," added sophomore Ayman Ghanim, 16. "There's really nothing bad about it."

While the trend under Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been to close large, failing high schools and carve them into smaller, more manageable schools, there is no indication that Francis Lewis HS has any reason to fear a similar fate.

And that's fine with Scherr, whose school earned a "B" grade in October on its first-ever report card.

"There's no need to break up a school like this. It would be a tragedy," said the principal. "Some teenagers pick a big college, some pick a small college. I think it's nice that they can have a choice [in high school]."


We Light Up Queens said...

Although vastly overcrowded, the school seems to do a good job at scheduling each grade, where crowding becomes less of an issue. The real issue is when these students need individual counseling or tutoring, are these resources available? As far as the claim to have 90% attendance, perhaps my own experience is biased or too small of a sample size, but I would set the ratio to about 75/25 with the majority of these "part time" high school students getting their GEDs. Would a split of the school be effective? If it meant more individual attention and smaller classes of course this could be the dramatic difference between a subpar student just making it through school, barely passing regents and going to a Community College, if college at all. Now I am certainly not generalizing that most or all students fit into such a category but rather that this is a common situation for many students.

Anonymous said...

What's with that picture? I might have taken dance class if we got to do that in high school.

Anonymous said...

They have gym in the hallway.

Anonymous said...

How many students are illegal immigrants?

ken sarcastically said...

...yes, it's great to get kids outside for gym when it's in the 30's. And if they get pneumonia, all the better, as that'll reduce attendance and result in less overcrowding!

Anonymous said...

in case there's a fire, do you think the school can evacuate safely? hmmmm............

Anonymous said...

This is pathetic - why dont the parents (those that aren't illegal and in hiding -and are the lucky ones the rest of us have to carry on this one) complain to the community boards, complain to the newspapers, complain to the politicians.

Write letters! Share them with Cappie! Lets see what we can do about this.

Anonymous said...

Hey please don't talk about illegal immigrants causing overcrowding and overdevelopment. Doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

Yes that sensitive preservationist will get his panties in a bunch.

Jason in Kew Gardens said...

"What's with that picture? I might have taken dance class if we got to do that in high school."

Me, too. When I had dance class at Richmond Hill High School a couple of years ago, (a substitute for gym class which was not my decision) 60 students stood an equal distance apart from one another, like soldiers. We had to dance to ONE country song for over 3 months. The table-top stereo used to play it was of such poor quality, the lyrics were inaudible.

We only had one 45 minute period and the 2 teachers could barely handle 50-60 students, which resulted in what was actually a 15-25 minute class. Similarly, when I was transferred to swimming, we only really spent 15 minutes maximum in the pool.

Good times!

Anonymous said...

Everyone writing letters wont solve the problem. Every school is going through the same problem. There was over 900 graduating seniors in my cardozo class of a little over 1,000. And that was 10 years ago. Not much has changed. There is nowhere to build new schools, no money to build new schools. So what are all these letters going to accomplish. Obviously they are taking a bad situation and making it work. Each grade has several advisors and I never had an issue with it. And if you ever drove past the school, there are several exits on each side of the building, so I am pretty sure evacuation would go well, but I only know from what I have seen.

Anonymous said...

is nowhere to build new schools, no money to build new schools. So what are all these letters going to accomplish.

It is important to throw this into the face of every nitwit that wants to build just because the mayor wants us to build - you know, geniouses like that group in Jackson Heights that is taking stock in their community to 'fit all those people.'

Reminding everyone again and again of this terrible situation might shut up all those prodevelopment types.

What the hell is the point in 'affordable housing' if your kid's future is destroyed though poor education?

Anonymous said...


That's grade school boob of a principal !

Anonymous said...

This is a clear indication
that NYC isn't delivering the municipal services
that we've already paid for with our taxes.

Isn't that considered "THEFT OF SERVICES" ? !!!

Anonymous said...

to the person who wrote about if it could be evacuated in case of a fire, 3 years ago there was a fire and the school needed to be evacuated, and everything went fine. Part of the school was also evacuated this year due to a "rocket" being brought to the school and examined by the NYPD bomb squad. Once again, this was able to be done effectively.