Finally: McCourt HS

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Before literary legend and longtime New York City public school teacher Frank McCourt died this past summer, efforts were underway to create a school in his honor. Now that plan has become a reality. On Oct. 6, the Department of Education announced that the Frank McCourt High School will open in fall 2010 as part of the Brandeis campus, on West 84th Street.

The small, selective school will eventually serve 432 students when all high school grades are added during the 2013-14 school year. McCourt was best known as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of  Angela’s Ashes, but he also taught for 29 years, mostly at Stuyvesant High School.

As Brandeis is phased out and replaced with smaller schools, the McCourt School will be the selective neighborhood high school that many residents have been clamoring for. Three other schools have already opened on the Brandeis campus this fall: Global Learning Collaborative, focusing on international and multicultural learning; the Urban

Elected officials and community leaders at the official announcement of Frank McCourt High School, on Oct. 6. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Elected officials and community leaders at the official announcement of Frank McCourt High School, on Oct. 6. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Assembly School for Green Careers, which prepares students for the workforce and college; and Innovation Diploma Plus, a transfer school for students who have struggled elsewhere.

The McCourt School will open with a freshman class of 108 and add a grade each year. According to the department, there will be no geographic preference for District 3 students. But advocates hope that its size, focus and curriculum will make it an attractive option for neighborhood students, among others.

Marc Landis is a local Democratic district leader who has been part of the effort to create the school. He described walking past the Brandeis campus with his young daughter and watching her grow excited by the idea of a neighborhood school with a focus on writing.

“It definitely doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t be limited to the Upper West Side,” he said. “But isn’t it every parent’s dream to be able to send their kid to great school a few blocks away?”

When the department announced in February that Brandeis would be phased out, residents and elected officials, led by Council Member Gale Brewer, formed an ad hoc committee supporting the creation of the McCourt School. Members included noted education writer Clara Hemphill and West Side parent Tom Allon, president and CEO of the company that publishes West Side Spirit and a former colleague of McCourt’s at Stuyvesant High School.

“The most exciting part of it is was a group of West Side- and Harlem-based parents who came together. It’s a real ground-up school,” Brewer said. “I don’t think this has happened in a long time.”

A Facebook “cause” website supporting the high school attracted nearly 600 members and kept the public abreast of it’s progress.

“The process was highly collaborative and drew on the insight and effort of local parents, elected officials and more,” said Micah Lasher, director for public affairs at the department. “We think the product is going to be outstanding.”

At a public meeting in June, some expressed concern that the school’s “selective” nature would lead to de facto segregation. But supporters noted that diversity would be a cornerstone of the admissions policy. Hemphill, who has visited hundreds of schools while writing her series of popular books, says she hopes the school will be able to serve a neglected population.

“There aren’t a lot of attractive options for kids who aren’t going to go to Stuyvesant but don’t need remediation either, and I hope this can help with that,” she said.

Admission criteria and curriculum specifics will likely be defined once a principal is selected. But the school’s educational theme, according to Lasher, has already been determined: communication and civic engagement. It’s fitting tribute to McCourt, who was an active participant in conversations about education.

“It’s so sad that he died, but I’m glad that he knew we were planning the school in his name,” Brewer said. “I think he was one of the best teachers ever, and I hope the school will live up to his standards.”

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  • John Kwok

    I have shared news of the school's opening with a prominent journalist who shares my ample skepticism that a high school of this kind is necessary and useful. We boh believe that it is too soon for high school students to begin specializing towards a potential career in writing and journalism, when what is really required is a solid background in all subjects, and especially, in the sciences, mathematics and technology, since ours is a modern civilization that is heavily dependent upon science and technology. Given the dire state of American scientific illiteracy recently documented in books like Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum's “Unscientific America: How Science Illiterarcy Threatens our Future”, and my friend Ken Miller's “Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul”, I can't see how a school like this can make substantial progress toward addressing the vast problem of scientific illiteracy that is a dire threat to our future economic and intellectual well being.

    As a former prize-winning student of Frank McCourt's at Stuyvesant High School, I strongly believe that his legacy should be celebrated and remembered appropriately. However, I am not convinced that the Frank McCourt High School devoted to writing and journalism is the best means of celebrating and preserving that legacy.

    Sincerely yours,

    John Kwok.

  • Hilda O'Bryan

    I'm so excited about this new school. We are currently looking for a new school for our son who will be entering 9th grade the fall of 2010. We live in the Hamilton Heights Harlem area. How can I get more information about the school? When will there be an Open House? Who can I speak to regarding admission to the school? Please advise via email below.

    Thank you.

  • nealhurwitz

    Lovely!

  • John Kwok

    Hilda,

    Your son might be better off investigating the specialized high school that's affiliated with City College, since it's in your neighborhood, or those I have cited both here and in my recently published letter to the editor. Given the relatively small size of the Frank McCourt High School, the school itself won't have as much with regards to educational facilities as those I have cited.

    Neal, good to see you here. It's really a pleasure seeing how devoted you are to our alma mater.

  • Pingback: UWS parents and politicos took central role in McCourt’s building | GothamSchools

  • John Kwok

    Columbia University's recent decision to suspend its environmental journalism program is one glaring example as to why a Frank McCourt High School may fail in its mission. You can read about it here:

    http://ow.ly/vhIg

  • John Kwok

    Columbia University's recent decision to suspend its environmental journalism program is one glaring example as to why a Frank McCourt High School may fail in its mission. You can read about it here:

    http://ow.ly/vhIg

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