R5 Westchester Disctrict Administrators on What Makes Their High Schools Exceptional

We asked the administration of each district: “What makes your high school exceptional?” Fourteen schools refused to participate: Briarcliff, Croton-Harmon, Fox Lane (Bedford), Hendrick Hudson (Montrose), Horace Greeley, (Chappaqua),  John Jay (Katonah-Lewisboro), Lakeland (Shrub Oak), North Salem, Ossining, Peekskill, Pleasantville, Somers, Walter Panas (Cortlandt Manor), and Yorktown. Here are the answers of those who chose to respond.

Alexander Hamilton (Elmsford)
Teachers at Alexander Hamilton High School are given time to plan collaboratively in our Professional Learning Community (PLC) initiative, allowing them time to plan interdisciplinary lessons that are aligned to the new Common Core Learning Standards. In addition, Alexander Hamilton uses this time to develop new programs that meet the learning needs of its students. For example, during the 2011-12 school year, collaboration within PLC groups led to the development of a homework intervention program called “Zeros Aren’t Permitted,” also referred to as ZAP. This program is an intervention that provides students with support to complete their assignments in a timely manner.

Ardsley High School enrolls every ninth grader in a full-year Critical Writing and Research course that introduces students to critical thinking skills, rhetoric, and research techniques. The school participates in Cambridge University’s Pre-University Program by offering juniors and seniors a course in Global Perspectives and Research, which teaches students how to deconstruct and then reconstruct issues of global concern. This culminates in a 25-page thesis of their choosing. Ardsley High School is the only school in Westchester that has extended the 11th-grade United States History curriculum into three semesters, allowing all students at all levels to engage in a more in-depth and enriched study of our nation’s history.  

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Blind Brook (Rye Brook)
An 80-hour community-service graduation requirement, Peer Mentor Program has upperclassmen at Blind Brook High work with freshmen to provide academic support and assistance in making connections within the school environment. The school also has an Honors Student Leadership Seminar, which focuses on the study of leadership paradigms, principles, practices, group dynamics, teamwork, and problem-solving, and during which students implement a leadership project. In Honors Shapers of the World—an interdisciplinary, Socratic English elective that includes a study of the history of art and music—students examine the common threads that link disciplines such as literature, art, music, philosophy, history, and science in the development of human civilization.

This year, the school began the Bronxville Voices Assembly Program to provide an opportunity for students and faculty to share their experiences and interests with the entire student body. The first of these assemblies was delivered by a group of high school students who traveled to the JBFC Orphanage and Joseph and Mary School in Tanzania, Africa. They related their life-altering experiences working at the school. A faculty member’s presentation focused on his hiking trip on the Camino de Santiago. Similar assemblies are held throughout the year to enhance the sense of community at BHS.

Dobbs Ferry
Dobbs Ferry High School is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, where the focus is on a rigorous curriculum. It is one of 2,000 IB World Schools in 124 countries. As an IB World School, Dobbs Ferry is committed to developing inquiring, knowledgeable, and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. Dobbs Ferry is also unique in its approach to special education. Utilizing a full-inclusion model, all special education students, regardless of ability, are educated with their general education peers. The belief is that access and equity must exist for all students.

Similar to other Westchester schools, Eastchester students have a rigorous academic program including 22 different AP and college-credit-bearing courses, more than 30 extracurricular activities and clubs to choose from, and 38 interscholastic athletic teams on which to participate. While the academic and co-curricular programs are rigorous, an emphasis on benevolence and philanthropy is woven throughout the school. Recently, students completed a toy drive, assisted in a food drive, sponsored the education of three children in Swaziland, collected blankets for the homeless, contributed to Alzheimer’s research, and organized a benefit concert to raise money for life-altering surgery for children born with cleft lips and palates.

Edgemont (Scarsdale)
Edgemont Junior-Senior High School is ethnically and culturally diverse, enrolling students from more than 40 countries. Edgemont offers a college-preparatory curriculum to all of its students, including honors and AP courses. The school typically sends more than 98 percent of its graduates to four-year colleges. It also features a broad athletic and extracurricular program that includes a nationally ranked debate team, community service organizations, drama and musical theater productions, and 53 different interscholastic sports teams. EHS also features the Phaedrus alternative school, a school-within-a-school, which seeks to create a dynamic and democratic school community in which students develop as leaders and independent learners.

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According to the Washington Post Challenge Index, Harrison High School ranks No. 1 in Westchester in preparing students for college success. The programs offered at Harrison High include an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, Advanced Placement courses, science research, Syracuse University dual-enrollment in multi-variable calculus and computer software engineering, law, journalism, and an expansive fine and performing arts program, including dance and technical theater. Opportunities to excel beyond the classroom include a nationally recognized band and debate team, Model Congress, Mock Trial and more than 30  interscholastic sports.

Hastings High School offers 14 Advanced Placement courses, two Syracuse University Project advance courses, its own alternative school within the school (HASP), and, two years ago, it developed its own Therapeutic Support Program. The school allows students to self-select into honors and college-level classes. Note: Of the 313 Advanced Placement exams written in May 2011, 89 percent of students who took the exam earned a score of 3 or higher (out of 5).

The Classics Program at Irvington High School is unique. One hundred sixty-eight of the school’s 595 students take Latin; four levels, including Advanced Placement, are offered. In addition, Ancient Greek I and II are offered and taught by a teacher who has written the textbooks for those courses; he also teaches the Legacy of Greece and the Legacy of Rome as electives. The two teachers responsible for this phenomenon, Michele Cella and Jonathan Silverman, are passionate not only about Latin but Roman culture. Their classes are infused with lessons on literature, mythology, history, and culture, in addition to grammar. The school also has 85 students in its Latin Club, co-advised by Cella and Silverman.

Mamaroneck (and Larchmont)
Mamaroneck offers 17 Advanced Placement courses, 10 honors courses, alternative programs, extensive enrichment/electives, a strong original science research program, a vibrant Mandarin program, award-winning fine and performing arts and music programs, and an extensive integrated technology program. It also offers special education programs and supportive services in reading, ESL, speech, guidance, and psychological services, as well as a system-wide emphasis on literacy/language arts and a top-notch professional staff.

Mount Vernon High
The strength of Mount Vernon High is in the people. The school has made exceptional shifts as it prepares its students for the 21st-century skills they will need for college or the workforce. Its ninth-grade students now all take a freshman seminar/character education course to lay the foundation for organizing for effort and success. The school’s upperclassmen are afforded advanced courses in TV production, cosmetology, automotive technology, creative writing, and an array of Advanced Placement courses. Excelling in the classroom is complemented by athletic accomplishments, including state and national championships in track and field, state and federation championships in boys’ basketball, and equal advancement of the girls’ track and field and girls’ basketball programs.

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New Rochelle
New Rochelle offers 25 AP courses and three concurrent, college-enrollment courses. More than 350 students participate in PAVE (Performing and Visual Arts Education), which provides opportunities for concentrated study in one of six artistic disciplines. The school offers state-approved career and technical education programs in marketing education and technology-architecture drafting. NRHS is home to the Museum of Arts and Culture, the only Regents-chartered museum in a school in New York State.

PMHS offers a two-week summer program for students who do not meet the Honors or Advanced Placement criteria. Following this program, they are allowed to enroll in the Honors or Advanced Placement program. An Algebra Summer Institute allows incoming ninth graders to take the integrated algebra course (a state requirement for high school) in order to accelerate in high school math and pursue the study of calculus by senior year. PMHS also seeks to prepare students for our global world market. The Pelham Education Foundation funds a World Languages Audio Lab and a World Languages Computer Lab. Unlike most schools, PMHS also offers ninth graders an opportunity to begin their study of a second world language with a choice of four level-one languages.

Port Chester
Port Chester High School’s motto is “Success for Every Student.” It collaborates with various institutions to provide students and their families with unparalleled resources, including a school-based health center, counseling services, and extensive afterschool activities. Boasting a nationally-recognized marching band, the school encourages students to discover their potential and exhibit Ram Pride in and out of the classroom.

Rye High School has been recognized by US News and World Report in multiple capacities. The school was distinguished as one of 100 Gold Medal Schools and ranked 34th of the top 208 high schools that performed best in student AP participation and AP exam results in math and science. Its athletic teams continue to earn scholar/athlete distinctions each season. The 2011 yearbook has been named a finalist in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Crown competition. This distinction places the yearbook as one of the top 50 yearbooks in the country.

Rye Neck (Mamaroneck)
Rye Neck High School’s talent-development philosophy provides all students with opportunities to explore their strengths and talents in authentic, real-world applications. Unique project-based programs—such as the Independent Learner Program, Science Research Opportunity, and the Senior Internship Program—serve as platforms for students to develop in-depth, mentored experiences in science, technology, social science, the arts, or entrepreneurship. Working collaboratively, the guidance department and faculty ensure that each student identifies what is most vital for college preparation, a career, and the creation of a rich, interesting, and productive life that is deeply engaged with the world.

Scarsdale’s tutorial structure is a defining aspect of Scarsdale’s high school culture. While students may choose to work in the library, gather with friends in common spaces, or even leave campus during unscheduled free periods, many use the time to meet with their teachers, to review work, to explore areas of common interest, or simply to talk. The individualized relationships they build with their teachers support and sustain them throughout their years at the high school by providing them with learning strategies, academic assistance, and self-advocacy skills that help them to become increasingly responsible, independent students and people.

Sleepy Hollow (and Tarrytown)
Sleepy Hollow High School is a newly expanded and renovated facility, with 100,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classrooms, science labs, art and media studios, a library, a gymnasium and fitness center, an auditorium that provides professional sound and light engineering, and much more. Every student at Sleepy Hollow is connected to an adult mentor through an advisory program, and a comprehensive college-and career-counseling program. College course offerings include 18 APs and affiliations with SUNY, Mercy College, and Syracuse University. SHHS provides an expansive multimedia program through which students are involved in all aspects of production for the school’s TV channel, digital yearbook, and award-winning website, sleepyhollowhits.com. Sleepy Hollow was named an Exemplary NYS High School by the Magellan Foundation in 2008 and was featured by the US Department of Education on a section of its website entitled “Doing What Works,” in 2009.

Tuckahoe High School provides new science classrooms and recently completed an upgrade to its computers throughout the district. Next year, the school plans to offer four additional AP courses and to upgrade its instructional-software offerings. Community service is a hallmark of Tuckahoe student character. The annual student variety show features students raising needed scholarship money for their own classmates. Student accomplishments continue to be validated by outside organizations, which awarded $2.5 million in scholarships to the class of 2011. The school also offers a full range of athletic programs.

Vallhalla High School encourages students to challenge themselves with college-level classes on multiple levels. Students participate in Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment courses through Westchester Community College and the Pre-University Cambridge University program. Last year, Valhalla was one of only 14 high schools in the country to pioneer the Pre-U Global Perspectives and Research program through Cambridge University in England. Valhalla High School, one of the very few schools to operate on a dual-platform operating system for the students, requires every 9th grader to learn both the Mac OS and the Microsoft OS in the required computer applications course.

Westlake (Thornwood and Hawthorne)
Westlake, a wireless campus, offers eight 10-week freshmen seminar courses in various disciplines aimed at honing critical thinking, problem solving, written and verbal communication, and collaborative skills while sparking creativity in our students. Seminar courses are the starting point for a pathway of study that helps students discover their passions and a potential college and career focus.  All seniors have the option of a 10-week internship that exposes them to real world applications of their studies in various professions.   

White Plains
White Plains has one common lunch period, providing students with unparalleled access to peers and teachers during that time. Because clubs meet during lunch and do not conflict with sports, both programs thrive. The student population is truly diverse, both ethnically and economically. Exposure to many cultures and viewpoints is a very broadening experience. WPHS alumni who come back to visit tell us how valuable their experience of diversity has been in their adjustment to college. Due to the size of the school and its supportive community, White Plains has an extraordinary elective program that includes both introductory and challenging upper-level courses in visual and performing arts, and challenging academic electives including Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses that allow students to earn college credit while still attending high school.

Woodlands (Hartsdale)
Woodlands High School is the most diverse public high school in Westchester with students representing 32 nations.  

Yonkers-Gorton’s Academy of Medical Professions provides rigorous instruction. All students have the opportunity to choose healthcare/medical career pathways, and its Smart Scholars Early College Program allows students to take college courses. The school offers students three smaller medical/healthcare communities within the school: patient management, medical technology services, and medical research and development. The academic program is based on the National Consortium on Health Science Education’s National Healthcare Foundation Standards. The school received the Smart Scholar Early College grant by the New York State Department of Education. All core-area teachers in each of the communities/pathways use integrated, interdisciplinary, project-based medical/healthcare curricula in which classroom learning and real world applications are integrated.

Lincoln High School is faced with the challenge of educating students of a complex, global society. This is accomplished through the offering of a strong academic program that incorporates and teaches students the skills necessary for career choices in the arts, business and finance, and the Program for Scientific Inquiry (PSI). Regardless of their career choices, students leave Lincoln with a strong academic foundation. This is evident by the number of graduates who go on to higher education, who are registered for Advanced Placement course, and who are participating in the recognized Academy of Finance and the Program for Scientific Inquiry. In addition to the variety and magnitude of course offerings, Lincoln High School also provides: Saturday School, Holiday School, Lincoln After School Academy, Study Hall with a Twist; SAT prep courses, JROTC, computer-assisted instruction, a Ninth Grade Summer Transition Program, virtual courses, and an advanced Vocal Music Program. This year, Lincoln High School will continue to expand and sustain its Smaller Learning Communities initiative. Through collaboration and with a specific plan to become a Professional Learning Community, the Lincoln High School Staff will work toward continuing distinct and unique academies with a focus on business development and finance.

Roosevelt High School is a smaller learning community comprising the Collegiate Academy. Teams of students within the community are taught by teachers who work together across disciplines. Students are engaged in a rigorous course of study where they take college credit and Advance Placement courses.

Saunders Trades and Technical High School is proud of its 100-year-plus history. The school is proud of its positive relationship with parents and business/community members. Events such as the Architectural Open House, Fashion Show, and Coffee/Cake and Conversation with the Principal are examples of this commitment. These events are open to the entire city, creating a small community in a big city. In 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, Saunders received America’s Best High Schools Bronze Award by US News and World Report.

Yonkers-Yonkers High
Yonkers Middle High School is one of only a small handful of International Baccalaureate schools in the tri-state area, and it has a fully open admission policy for students wanting to take IB college-level courses. This year, Yonkers Middle High School ranked 41 out of 21,000 public schools across the nation in overall achievement in US News & World Report. For International Baccalaureate schools, it came in fifth in the nation. One hundred percent of students take a minimum of two IB or AP courses. Students compete and are successful in competitions throughout the county, including art displays, musical performances, and sporting events. The school has been challenged by very stringent budget cuts, but boasts a 94.4 percent graduation rate with 99 percent of students going on to higher education.


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