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School Opening in Beacon HS Space to Use City as Extension of Classroom

By Emily Frost | September 15, 2014 1:24pm
 The school will have an interdisciplinary curriculum and 
West End Secondary School Will Have Urban Studies Focus
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The new school slated to open next year in the space currently occupied by Beacon High School will have an urban studies focus with an emphasis on utilizing cultural resources nearby and studying the city, its principal said.

Jessica Jenkins, who previously opened and led a public school on Staten Island and is currently a superintendent there, will lead the new 6-12 West End Secondary School on West 61st Street starting in September 2015.

She plans to bring an outward-looking approach to education, with lessons ranging from general city planning to green building incorporated into the curriculum.

After learning Beacon High School would move to a larger space in Hell's Kitchen at the end of the 2014-15 school year, local education leaders fought to make sure the building became the home of a new District 3 school.

The DOE finally confirmed its commitment to opening a new school there this April.

This fall, Jenkins is visiting local schools and community organizations to try to recruit 120 student for the first sixth-grade class, she said.

That first group will be larger than subsequent ones — with the school adding a grade each year —because DOE funding is tied to enrollment numbers and the school needs a financial boost starting out, said Jenkins and District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul.

After the 2015-16 school year, each class will shrink to between 90 and 100 students, they said. 

Recruiting for the first eight teachers will begin this spring and Jenkins said she's looking for "outside the box" thinkers.

The teachers should know how to draw students out and teach in a way that their voice doesn't monopolize class time, she said. 

"We are innovators and we want our teachers to be excited about designing curriculum," Jenkins said.

There will be a "tremendous amount of professional development" so that teachers can weave together the curriculum they write across subjects."

For example, one unit Jenkins has planned focuses on green building in cities, and lessons on that topic are tailored for both humanities and science classes.  

Learning will extend beyond the walls of the building too, she said. The school's urban studies bent will mean students have fieldwork sessions with experts in city planning and similar topics, as well as community service projects, Jenkins said.

In a typical week at the school, which includes 35 classes per student, there will be seven math periods, seven ELA periods, five social studies periods, two elective periods, four physical education periods, three music and art periods, and two advisory periods. 

The school recently received a grant to offer Spanish classes in sixth grade in addition to foreign language classes already worked into the budget starting in seventh grade, said Jenkins. 

During the elective period, students will have a chance to engage in a topic that interests them, like photography, reading or science, Jenkins said. 

The after-school offerings will be even more robust, with Jenkins planning to host a student council, a traveling basketball team, a debate team, a math team, a science club, a school newspaper, a drama club, a dance club, book clubs and graphic design lessons at the school.

"We’re about keeping our kids in school as long as we possibly can," she said.

Parents and community members can meet Jenkins and talk to her about the school and the admissions process at Community Board 7's next Youth, Education and Libraries committee meeting on Thursday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at 250 W. 87th St.