After categorically denying the lottery is anything but “on the level,” there have been recent confirmed news reports that one Queens public high school indeed discriminated against certain students by not allowing some into the school’s admission lottery.
In this special editorial section of our century-old weekly community newspaper group, we suggest you think about a better, more personalized education at one of the private high schools based on the extensive information we compiled over a decade of coverage, questioning and investigation.
Learn from this guide and explore what these high schools have to offer in advanced placement classes, after-school clubs and truly organized athletics. We use the phrase “truly organized” because we have witnessed countless team practices in a variety of sports. The organization of the practices in these schools is significantly better than nearly any public high school.
Take a look through any of the school’s websites, and one can see that there might be as many as eight sports teams in action on a given day. In late September, St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows had nine sports teams participating in a game on one day: soccer, volleyball, tennis, baseball, bowling and track.
Their list of clubs is tremendous. It’s a school filled with after-school activities as excellent as any we have seen.
Some schools are finding niche’ programs that are consistent with their neighborhood’s brand. In Astoria, where the area is rife with television studios, theatre and music, St. John’s Prep has a Black Box Theatre program that is truly inspiring. We find these schools believe that they can inspire a passion within the student that will carry with that teen through their life.
The very culture of these private schools makes the student interested enough to get involved in activities outside the classroom. Year after year over the past decade, we find that more schools are offering after-school activities and in-school programs geared toward the arts and sciences.
In fact Msgr. McClancy in East Elmhurst is now offering Music & Performing Arts Tuition Scholarships. They hold auditions for students that want to join the band or chorus. While in Manhattan, Girls Who Code and Mock Trial continue to be top activities at Dominican Academy for Girls.
St. Edmunds Prep in the heart of Sheepshead Bay has a location that affords them to have crew as an activity, but they also have robotics and savings & investment clubs as well.
We have found that there is no shortage of thinking outside the box at these schools.
How We Chose The Top Schools For Our List
We sent questionnaires to dozens of private high schools in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan for our 2017 issue, just in time for October open houses. To be among the top high schools, we need to see at least 90 percent of the student body go to college, answer 90 percent of our probing questions, and have a full roster of extracurricular activities. Otherwise you don’t make the cut.
We speak to parents, students, alumni, teachers and administrators. We are able to obtain interesting information that might not typically be shared with the outside world. The questions we ask are intended to compare the academic, spiritual and social environment of each school.
Schools are upfront about scholarship opportunities for eighth graders entering their school (see our story in this edition about scholarships), as well as money their seniors were offered in scholarships to colleges. Some bragged about the average SAT scores of their students, while others wouldn’t share.
We found that each school has its strengths, challenges and distinct culture. If little Johnny’s school is not listed here, it doesn’t necessarily mean we think his school is not worthy. Some schools wouldn’t share enough information for us to make a determination on quality of curriculum, program and student body. But we’ve been on this beat for a decade and a half now, so they know why we are calling.
“Themed” public high schools are not talking to us. They are small, and small gives your child a shot at making it out of there in one piece. Themed public high schools have been getting good marks from parents, but they won’t share credible information so we can not include them on this list.
We have determined that it’s hit or miss with those schools. There is very little consistency in outcome. With our top schools, a larger percentage of the middle class get accepted and get scholarship money for a college of choice. Last year top students from Xavier High School in Manhattan attended West Point, Annapolis, Yale, Cornell, Upenn, Notre Dame, Carnegie Mellon and Fordham. Now that’s a graduating list any school would be proud of.
“Our kids get into the schools they want to and last year the majority, 95 students out of the 149 who graduated, earned $21 million in scholarships to colleges,” said Nick Melito, director of admissions at Msgr. McClancy High School in East Elmhurst.
The real trend in education is that high-achieving eighth-graders who might have attended a specialized city high school in the past are now opting for a top private high school on academic scholarship.
The reason is obvious when you see what these private schools are doing to compete for the top-notch students. They each have their own way of thinking outside the box to motivate their students for four years, but they have a few things in common we should point out.
They work fairly hard at getting the most out of your child, including getting all their students into top colleges. We find they treat every student like they are important.
In last year’s issue, we focused on a dynamic program at St. John’s Prep, a co-ed school with 800 students in Astoria. Their Baccalaureate Program in partnership with St. John’s University on the Queens campus has been a success this year as well. The program continues to enable St. John’s Prep students to complete high school and college in seven years.
“As a sophomore we start talking about college,” said Principal William Higgins. “If they are ready we encourage students who have the academic and maturation level to take a full load of college courses at St. John’s University in their senior year here.”
SJP has seen great successes with this program. St. John's University interviews them and if the admissions people feel these students are ready to fit into St. John's, then they are accepted. This year SJP has more than a handful of seniors in this program.
Our Top High Schools have the flexibility to reach out to institutions of higher education and learning facilities to develop partnerships. They include college credit courses and the opportunity for seniors to visit the college campus for classes to get a feel for the next level.
In the case of The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica, students in a Pre-Med track take part in a summer internship at one of a few hospitals, including Lenox Hill and New York Presbyterian.
Our schools seem to have more dynamic programs like this every year, and in most cases, graduates from these high schools have a real leg-up because they are entering college with a semester or more worth of college credit, bringing the cost of college down considerably. Call a school on our list and ask about college interaction programs. Ask to talk to one of the seniors involved.
A growing trend is offering professional disciplines. At Bishop Kearney, an all-girls school with 400 students in Brooklyn, they started WBKS TV Studio, a real live TV station.
St. Agnes High School in College Point has 50 percent of its girls competing on a sports team. We find that healthy. We have found girls who play on sports teams are more likely to have an easier adjustment to college life.
Is Cost Of Tuition A Challenge?
These schools typically want your child if your child wants them. Contacting the financial aid department at one of the schools does not send up a red flag about your child. In fact, it helps. These schools love kids who show them they really want to go there.
They make an effort to figure out how to get you financial aid and/or scholarship money in order to attend the school. You will have to pay something, showing your family tax return is typical, but if you are well behaved, show that you are willing to work and that you have some talent that can add to the school community, they will try to get you in.
“If you feel your child is a good fit for us we want to talk to you,” said Martin Luther School principal James Regan. His attitude is typical among administration and teachers of the schools we profile in this edition. He graduated from Martin Luther and represents everything about its rich culture and tradition. Someone who lives deep within the brand of the school is quick to see whether a potential student fits.
After exploring the options in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan in this special issue, we suggest you attend the open houses during the next few weeks and talk to an admissions director. If they find your child is likely to succeed, you might just be lucky enough to qualify for a scholarship or aid. We have a piece in this issue which analyses how schools are awarding scholarships.
Melito said that investing in infrastructure is key. “It’s the pay-off in the end,” he said. “Each year we spend tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment. This year it’s new fencing around the entire square block we own, last year it was air–conditioning in the gym.”
Xaverian High School in Bay Ridge spotlights its XCEL Program. Seventh graders who want that high school experience during the summer between 7th and 8th grades can apply for an enrichment program where the more passionate teachers and student leaders collide for a month in July. They run a leadership program for interested students four days a week at the school. This enrichment program is a proven pipeline to the high school. Applicants are encouraged to apply in February, and they would need a recommendation from a grade school teach as well. Check out the application online.
Find a junior or senior. Where do they stand in the class and where are they planning to go to college? What did they score on the SAT, PSAT? How were his or her grades in elementary school? If that student who is in the middle of the class is now attending a college you think might be the goal of your child, then maybe that is the right school for yours.
Take the TACHS
Apply for the Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools, or TACHS, scheduled for November 4. Visit tachsinfo.com or call 1-866-61TACHS by October 16 to register in advance. Students applying to a top high school must provide their choice of schools in order of preference.
It’s Worth The Investment
Faith and moral character are paramount to the experience at these schools, so if that’s not for you, then just stop here and go to the entertainment section. But we find the schools are culturally and religiously diverse. After doing the research, we can assure parents that our Top High Schools are worth the investment in your child. If you want specialized attention, public schools just won’t cut it.
Technology, Scholarships, College Credit Courses & Internships
The schools we cover in this issue have invested heavily in technology in their classrooms and libraries. Over the last ten years they have been much more willing to experiment with savvy tech options to stay ahead of the curve. They all offer high-speed Internet connections and state-of-the-art computers, libraries, Smartboards and interactive websites.
St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset has always maintained an exceptional digital university electives program, which helps their students learn great study skills and use technology over a broad range of disciplines. While list of college credit courses at St. Mary's is one of the most robust we have seen, their attention to having their students remaining digitally relevant in “higher order learning skills” is admirable.
Kew-Forest School in Forest Hills stands out among the rest with their average class size of 12 and their top student last year, who attended MIT. With 230 students in K through 12, they are small by design, and offer outstanding individual attention.
Almost all of the schools in this issue offer college credit courses, which helps with some college expenses. Nearly every student at Dominican Academy for girls in Manhattan take at least one college-credit course and almost two-thirds enroll in an honors course. St. Francis Prep offers 30 or more college credit courses in subjects ranging from art and language to math.
Trips abroad are also part of many language curriculum options. Xavier High School in Manhattan has a number of trips every summer, from building homes in South America to simply helping communities in need in this country.
While we find that most private high schools in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan are still attracting students from nearby, they are a choice for more and more students who commute an hour and sometimes more.
What To Look For at The Open House
October is the month most schools want you there, although some offer second chances in later months. It is imperative that you attend the open house with your child. Ask questions of the people taking you on the tours.
• Most schools have had a child or two attend a top-ranked college. That’s great, but you should find out where a student who was in the middle of the class, academically, went to college. Do most of the graduates go to CUNY, SUNY or do they aspire to go to tier-one colleges? U.S. News and World Report magazine publishes a guide to U.S. colleges this month. Look it up online.
• Find a junior or senior. Where do they stand in the class and where are they planning to go to college? What did they score on the SAT, PSAT? How were his or her grades in elementary school?
• Don’t be shy about asking questions. Your child will spend the next four years there, so speak to a current student you don't know. Is he or she the type of kid you think you want your child to become? Ask where they score in relation to their classmates. Are his or her marks in the middle of the class or are they above average? A teenager will be honest if they are talking to you one-on-one.
• Ask to speak to the principal or admissions director during the open house. Introduce your child to him or her. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your child. Talk about what type of student they are and what their outside interests could be. They actually want to talk to you about your child and will be honest with you. Understanding that they want a student who will be a good fit for the school is quite important. If the student leaves after a year, it doesn’t make sense for either the school or the student.
Sports & Schools
Some schools concentrate on their athletics because it is a way of promoting their school. Although few administrators will freely admit the positive press from a few good teams goes a long way in recruiting students, it’s true.
Many students say intramural sports programs gets them through the academic day. Not everyone will make the team of their choice, but these schools typically do a great job in making sports an integral part of the school spirit.
Don’t pick a school because they have a great basketball or baseball program, because if your child doesn’t get picked for the team resentment will set in. If your child is an athlete, seek out the freshman coach at the open house. Coaches will be honest about your child's chances of making the team.
Although recruiting kids is generally frowned upon, it always seems that basketball and baseball coaches of high school teams will know four or five kids coming into their freshman program, and as many as 30 or 40 students will attend basketball and baseball tryouts at the larger schools. This year McClancy had two varsity baseball players who were recently drafted by MLB teams. Word is out that they will show for the open house to show support for the school.
If your child is not one of the select few for the highly popular basketball team, many opt for the track & field or swim team. Some parents feel their child might actually be better off on the soccer team in the long run. Xavier, a school with over 1,000 boys in Manhattan, says that half of their students participate in at least one team.
After the TACHS, contact the school admissions director and try to get your child enrolled, even if they have not accepted him or her. We know of many instances where this was done, and the student had a great high school experience and graduated to go on to the right college. Be as honest with yourself and your child as possible.
There is no doubt that the extra attention and quality education your child receives at our Top High Schools is worth the cost and effort. Many children mature during their teen years, so don’t stifle their academic potential before they get a chance to grow up.