Dear Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, and the people of the City of New York,
DeWitt Clinton High School should not be closed. The closure of DeWitt Clinton High School will accomplish nothing but the waste of a valuable and unique opportunity.
It has been argued that the history of a school does not matter, that it is only the present activities of the school that matter. That is not the version of History that I learned at DeWitt Clinton. The History that I learned at DeWitt Clinton commands that the past is important, that the past is critical to the present. DeWitt Clinton High School has a story that stretches over 115 years, starring hundreds of thousands of students, parents, faculty, and staff.
DeWitt Clinton High School, precisely because of its great history, presents an amazing opportunity. Educators at DeWitt Clinton could leverage the school’s past to create unique, tailored educational materials that would raise standards like never before. Students can read literature crafted by such alumni as James Baldwin and Countee Cullen. Students can study the intersections of science and history through such works as the biology textbook that was at the heart of the Scopes Monkey Trial, written by a DWCHS teacher.
DeWitt Clinton High School’s thousands of living alumni are also a resource that it would be a shame to waste. The alumni association claims to be the largest high school alumni association in the world, and includes executives at top companies in the New York City metropolitan area. The mentorship that could be provided would be unrivaled. Many DWCHS alumni are also educators. Bring them back home, if you can.
Regardless, the students of DeWitt Clinton are in dire need of resilient teachers and administrators who can understand where they are coming from and how to address their needs. Many of the students that DWCHS currently serves are undeniably some of the neediest children in the City of New York. Many of these students come from broken homes, impoverished backgrounds, and may not speak English as a first language. The DOE has already failed to adequately serve many of these students before they matriculate at DeWitt Clinton.
These students have special needs. These needs require further resources and innovative approaches. The same situation in the same standing structure with the same strategies will not help them. Small schools that do the same thing as the large schools before them will not help these students. Discarding the DeWitt Clinton name, heavy with meaning, will not help these students.
DeWitt Clinton may be a large school, but it is overenrolled. By standards that the New York City Department of Education itself has acknowledged, DeWitt Clinton bears responsibility for more students than it has the capacity to serve. A building long known as “The Castle on the Parkway” now stands increasingly in ruin, with everything from window shades to desks broken. Students come to classrooms that can barely physically accommodate the desks in them, let alone match the recommended class sizes for optimal instruction. Students come to classes without the materials necessary for success, without materials as basic as textbooks. Students come to teachers depressed by what they increasingly view as a fight against the Department of Education instead of alongside of it. If you truly want to see the school and its students succeed, you will give it the resources, the space, and the motivation necessary to do so. If you truly want to see the school and its students succeed, you will give it the opportunity to do so.
For all of its struggles, DeWitt Clinton continues to provide unrivaled opportunities for its student body. Fifteen Advanced Placement courses demonstrate the academic rigor that is possible. Fifty clubs and sports teams illustrate the enriching extracurricular environment. A new community garden–complete with composting–tugs at the legacy of the school’s involvement in New York City’s very first community garden, adjacent to its former campus at Hell’s Kitchen.
The ivy climbing the walls of DeWitt Clinton’s present structure–it’s third–has long been cleared away, but DeWitt Clinton continues to help graduates climb the socioeconomic ladder by attending Ivy-caliber institutions of higher education. The MACY Honors and Gifted Program that I graduated from continues to provide a sense of community and investment that is infrequently matched by this city’s schools. Even while the school received an F on its progress reports, it received a B for college readiness. With students enrolling at such low achievement levels, it is an astonishing feat that they graduate prepared for college-caliber studies.
This is a school that the U.S. News & World Report has ranked as one of the 96 most outstanding high schools in America. This is a school whose football team has played against the likes of Columbia University. This is a school whose graduates have graced halls of fame, held nobel laureateships, and stood at the helm of some of America’s most recognizable corporations. This is a school of no small significance.
This is a school that graduated the creators of Spiderman and Batman. This is a school that, today, needs a hero. Please be that hero. Please save DeWitt Clinton High School.
- The Riverdale Press – “Students, Teachers Stand Up to DOE to Save DeWitt Clinton”
- New York Times – City Room – “DeWitt Clinton’s Remarkable Alumni”
- Notable Alumni of DeWitt Clinton High School (July 2012 Edition)
- DWCHS Witt Seminar – Composting Project
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