BY JON CRONIN
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña came to the High School of Arts and Business in Corona last week to announce that for the first time in New York City’s history, the graduation rate is above 70 percent.
He added, “You go back a few years ago, that would’ve been considered impossible in this city. But we know not only can we break 70 percent, we have set our goal on 80 percent, and we’re going to do everything we can to get this school system, get our kids to that point – where 80 percent are graduating within four years – and by the way, a reminder, with the toughest standards in the entire nation.”
The drop-out rate in 2015 also fell nearly a full percentage to land at nine percent over last year. That’s a drop of 13 percent since 2001.
De Blasio noted that also for the first time, the High School of the Arts and Business’s graduation rate is 90.4 percent.
During a student round table event before the press conference announcing the historic graduation rates, de Blasio and Fariña sat with students from the high school.
The school’s Principal Ana Zambrano-Burakov, is also a success story. She emigrated from Argentina as a child and learned English while growing up in East Harlem. To makes ends meet, her mother cleaned apartments while her father sold paintings in Central Park. She said if her father sold a painting for a $150, they would be able to afford rent, if not her mother would have to clean an extra apartment. “I got my green card senior year [of high school],” she said.
“You are a role model,” de Blasio said, adding that the Principal was “an example of what you can do.”
During the round table, students described their experience there as “like a second home,” and one student said one of his favorites things about the school is bonding with the teachers. Fariña noted, “School should feel like an extension of home.”
The school doesn’t require a high grade point average or any kind of portfolio upon applying, only a willingness to take part in the program and attend classes. Fariña said the school accepts not only students that already show talent, but who they know they can help cultivate their own talent.
De Blasio congratulated the students for speaking so eloquently with him and Fariña. He said that in of itself is a skill.
“You can’t build that unless you’re in an environment where you’re being respected,” he said.
Fariña noted that after school hours the campus should still be an active place for students. She said students at Arts and Business talked to her about not only how they are engaged scholastically, but individually.
“Schools need to be community hubs,” she said.
Zambrano-Burakov noted that a community like theirs succeeds because they performed as one team.
She said when attendance drops for a student who usually comes in on time, “That cannot be ignored.” She noted they will then meet and discuss what social and emotional challenges the student faces and handle that first, “then when you get them back to school and get that is settled, instruction can take place.”
She said, while fighting tears, “because I have the best teachers in the world,” and added, “It’s a community of effort that makes it happen.”
Zambrano-Burakov believes their 90 percent graduation rate is because they give every student the opportunity to take Advanced Placement and college credit courses.
“We do not care what their average is coming in, we rank kids based on attendance…we just want to know they have a passion for the arts,” Zambrano-Burakov said.
Her father told her, “if you take a small tree, put it in the right soil, you give it the proper care, that tree will grow and give it the fruit you expect it to. I believe our school treats every student with that love and that passion to give them the highest potential that they can give. I believe all students with the right support can actually achieve maximum potential.”
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D- Flushing), a former teacher, and member of the Senate Committee for Higher Education asked, “What is happening to your remediation rate?” She said the rate at CUNY is 78 percent, which means students need to take extra courses in order to be prepared for college level classes. Stavisky said she believes the rates at SUNY to be comparable. “Parents are suffering, because they’re paying for the education twice.”
She noted that change will come from schools like Arts and Business, “because the assumption is that a child can learn.”
Reach Reporter Jon Cronin at (718) 357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin