SO WHY IS THIS PRINCIPAL SMILING?
CLASSES ARE CROWDED
LUNCH IS SERVED AT 9 A.M.
'GYM' IS HELD IN THE ICY OUTDOORS...
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]."