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Fire and peace in NYC schools.

Peace and firefighting are just two specialities New York City students will learn about this fall. Amnesty International School for Human Rights and the FDNY High School for Fire and Life Safety are two of 60 specialized schools set to open this fall, part of the city's plan to create 200 small (mostly high) schools by 2007.

The new schools will be located on campuses of existing schools, but will seek to foster personalized and rigorous academic environments with 525 or fewer students, a noted departure from New York's infamous 3,000-student, violence-laden and drop-out prone behemoths.

The creation, and some support, for the new schools will be funded by a $57.7 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A group of non-profit organizations who have partnered with the city will handle the new schools. These are not charter schools, though; the city will pay all regular educational expenses.

More than half of the 60 schools opening in 2004 will be created by New Visions for Public Schools, a non-profit that already operates more than 40 schools in the city. New Visions will require that 80 percent of students in its schools pass New York State Regents exams in five subjects and graduate in four years; currently, in many NYC public high schools fewer than 15 percent of students meet this standard.

New Visions schools have shown early indications of success, with attendance rates in the 91 percent to 95 percent range, versus less than 80 percent in large schools, says Lili Brown, vice president of external affairs. Course pass rates are about 82 percent versus 65 percent for large schools, Brown adds. A New York study found that students in smaller high schools had higher graduation rates, higher college matriculation rates and lower dropout rates than their peers in large high schools, results that have been replicated in other large cities.

The biggest obstacle thus far has been related to facilities. "When you try to create an individual learning experience based on personalization and community, and you put them in a building where they have to go through three security gates to get in, and the elevators haven't worked in 10 years ... that's a challenge," Brown says.

The ambitious plan is just one of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed elixirs for the moribund system. Bloomberg, through Chancellor Joel I. Klein, has also proposed phasing out middle schools in favor of a pre-K-8 and 9-12 model. He recently strong-armed the passage of a plan to "end social promotion" by retaining third graders who score at the lowest level of a standardized test given in that grade.

NYC High Schools

At a Glance

High school enrollment 239,534

Alternative and collaborative high school enrollment 42,178

Vocational High school enrollment 26,944

Total high school enrollment 308,656

Total NYC school enrollment 1,086,886

Source: The New York City Department of Education
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Title Annotation:Update: education news from schools, businesses, research and government agencies
Author:Sausner, Rebecca
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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