Turning Around DeWitt Clinton High School

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DeWitt Clinton High School is a large comprehensive public high school in the Bronx, NY that is struggling to succeed with its high-need student body.  Although the school has had a 115-year history, it has recently begun to fail evaluations by the city Department of Education.   DWCHS has a higher percentage of students who are English Language Learners (ELL), disabled, and are eligible for free or reduced price lunch than most New York City public schools.  Black and Hispanic students, who compromise the overwhelming majority of Clinton’s student body, also perform the most poorly at the school according to demographic breakdowns from city and state data.

Although Clinton has been told to improve many times over the past few years, progress has not been made.  Since it retains the schedule, staffing, and organizational structure of the large comprehensive high school from decades ago, many opportunities remain to turnaround DeWitt Clinton.  Mostly using the framework outlined in Anthony Bryk’s Organizing Schools for Improvement, I have drafted a policy memorandum that shows that Clinton can be reorganized to increase academic achievement.  There are three main options that the incoming principal has in leading DWCHS: retraining and restructuring to meet the highest levels of need, adapting to attract and improve with the students that the school is already successful with, or guiding the school into closure.  The options are in order of preference, with the recommendation being to turnaround the school to meet the highest need.

Option 1. I propose that in downsizing, the school makes cuts in more highly-paid leadership positions rather than more numerous teaching and support staff.  The school should consider appointing an alumni and community engagement coordinator.  This coordinator can help take advantage of its vast alumni body through mentorship programs and build partnerships with local organizations.  Finally, this coordinator can help develop a curriculum more relevant and engaging to the student body.  The Small Learning Communities (SLCs) should be strengthened by absorbing more types of staff and further reorganization.  Through this, the school should cultivate a more student-centered learning climate.  In addition, the assignment of faculty advisors to supplement guidance counselors could improve  instructional guidance.

I would say that these recommendations are just the tip of the iceberg, but Clinton is starting to sink as quickly as the Titanic.  There was a deafening uproar when the Department of Education proposed to close the school this year, but there has been silence on just how to turn it around.  These recommendations are colored by my own experience at DWCHS and could surely be supplemented and improved upon with further research and discussion.  So please read, please discuss, and please advocate.

You can read the full memo for further background, theory, and evidence, as well as more detailed proposals.  This memo was written for an Educational Entrepreneurship course through Wesleyan’s Center for the Study of Public Life.  A special thanks to Professor Jonathan Gyurko for guiding me through the project and to the faculty and staff of DeWitt Clinton High School for all that they have done for me.