High School Report Card
SATs, RaMPs, PhDs... We give you all the stats, info, and explanation you need to evaluate your local high school.
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And not only are kids participating, but the opportunities to participate in, well, just about anything is staggering. Some of the activities could tempt plenty of adults to go back to high school for a year or two. The 115 kids in the Irvington High marching band, for example, are going to London to perform, tour, and compete this spring. In the last 10 years, the Scarsdale Orchestra has traveled to Italy—twice—as well as to Northern Europe and Buenos Aires. The Scarsdale Band has been to China and Europe. At Mamaroneck, students publish Pen Pourri, a literary magazine with about 75 pages of student writing that comes out twice yearly. Sleepy Hollow High works with Phelps Memorial Hospital in a program in which the school nurse advises a group of students with an interest in nursing, taking them to health fairs and helping them find volunteer positions.
And let’s not forget the jocks. A 2005 University of Akron study found that athletes have higher GPAs at the end of their high school careers than at the start. Even if a student athlete’s grades don’t improve, though, athletics have another benefit for those who participate, according to Sleepy Hollow senior football player Vic Arpi. “They get us out of trouble and keep us in school,” he says. Arpi is going to Nassau Community College next year.
Participation in extracurricular athletics is strong in Westchester, too. Edgemont students are the most avid, with a participation rate in athletics of 85 percent. Bronxville (79 percent) and Briarcliff (75 percent) are active, too.
One of the problems with extracurricular activities is that they are “extra,” or outside the normal test-score-driven curriculum, and therefore one of the softest places in a budget when voters need something to fiscally squeeze. That’s what happened to Mount Vernon High’s highly venerated athletic programs when voters twice rejected the school budget and forced administrators to not only lay off 100 employees and increase class sizes, but to scrap the athletic program. Winter sports were saved by $750,000 raised from concerned citizens led by donations from Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls and actor Denzel Washington, both former residents. Dozens of others chipped in to get the school’s athletes through the winter, but the future of athletics at Mount Vernon High remains shaky.
College is the number-one priority for the majority of Westchester’s high school graduates. In 2007, NYS DOE figures show 69 percent of our seniors intended to enter a four-year college and another 21 percent were headed to two-year schools. It’s no wonder Pace’s Soodak says, “We are using counselors to get kids ready for college.” We looked at the number of kids per counselor, since the more time the counselor can spend with each one, the greater the impact they can have. More time means more attention to detail, more interaction with the kids and their families on college admission strategies, more opportunities to explore all the options.
This job description fits well with the widely held notion that the sole function of high school is to prepare children for college, which dovetails nicely with the similarly prevalent view that the only purpose college serves is as a ticket to a good job. That’s a shame, really, because education should have better long-term outputs than a paycheck.
Still, that’s why Scarsdale High defines itself in its profile as “a four-year college-preparatory high school” and the school has nine counselors (known since time immemorial as “deans”) for 1,470 students, which gives it a ratio of 163 students per counselor, about mid-range for the county. Yonkers’s Roosevelt High has the highest, with 390 students per counselor.
Most schools get by with half as many counselors on staff as Scarsdale. Irvington, where four counselors serve 600 students, giving each one about the same student caseload as Scarsdale’s, is a typical example. One counselor handles the entire ninth grade while the other three split the remainder of the Irvington High student body. “College is their prime concern, of course,” Principal Scott Mosenthal says, “but they also do a career program, a skills inventory, and a life-skills seminar at the end of the students’ high school career. That can deal with everything from how to fix a tire to how to manage a tough roommate.”
Teachers with MAs/PhDs
Shelley Wepner, dean of the School of Education at Manhattanville College, says of all the factors determining the quality of education, “number one is the qualification of the teacher. You want to make sure the teacher has current knowledge about their discipline and understands pedagogy.” That’s why we report on the percentage of each school’s faculty that holds advanced degrees. Even though a degree in and of itself doesn’t guarantee anything, there is some comfort in knowing that the instructional staff has gone beyond the bare minimum necessary to qualify for the job.
Seven Westchester schools report 100 percent of their teachers hold master’s degrees or higher: Valhalla, Hastings, Edgemont, Blind Brook, Pleasantville, Walter Panas in Cortlandt Manor, and Lakeland in Shrub Oak. All but eight other schools in the county have 90 percent or higher at that level. Teachers with bachelor’s degrees (and who meet other criteria) can be certified in New York, but have five years to complete their master’s degrees (along with meeting some other benchmarks) in order to become permanently certified.
When it comes to student engagement, one way to judge a school is by how well it challenges its students. Advanced courses are meant to do that. And these college level courses aren’t just for the top students anymore; many schools encourage underachievers to test their mettle, too, as a way to show them that they can do better than they think.
But it’s difficult to compare advanced course offerings between schools. Smaller schools, almost by definition, have fewer offerings. Then there are the many different paths schools can follow for such classes. Most Westchester schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses certified by The College Board, the same people who gave us the SAT test. Not Scarsdale, though, which recently opted out of the AP program in favor of their own brand known as Advanced Topics. And not Yonkers High School, which offers similar classes under the aegis of the very challenging International Baccalaureate program. Dobbs Ferry provides both. In a growing trend, many schools are scheduling upper-level classes in conjunction with colleges and universities outside the AP framework.