After three years in the School Renewal Program, Orchard Collegiate Academy is a school on the rise.
Just a few years ago, the State Education Department had deemed us one of the lowest performing schools and said we were at risk for a takeover by an independent authority. Our enrollment was shrinking, with only about 40 ninth-graders. Our graduation rate had bounced around the 40s and 50s for years, topping out at 63 percent – well below the citywide average. But most importantly, when you walked the building, the culture and climate was not strong. We had so much more work to do to serve our students and families.
Through the School Renewal Program, we got the support we needed to do just that.
We now have a Community Schools partnership with Henry Street Settlement, which is a community-based organization, and this synergy means everything to us and our kids. Henry Street provides two social workers and four social work interns to meet our students’ socio-emotional needs. We opened a new mental health clinic in 2015, which they help manage. My Community School Director, Dayna Hamann, has built bonds with our students and families that pay off in and out of the classroom. For me, our Family Night this fall reflected how far we’ve come; the kind of parent and student turnout and energy we saw would not have been possible without the Community Schools model.
In our classrooms, there’s been the same upward trend. We’ve bolstered the instruction going on in each of our classrooms with new training and resources that we’ve gotten through the Renewal program, and added AP courses and partnerships with NYU and BMCC. With guidance almost every day from my principal mentor Sandy Kase and Superintendent Daniella Phillips, we developed a clear goal – 100 percent of our students going on to the college or career of their choice – and the instructional plan to get us there. This year, we’re focusing on intellectual exchange – our students’ ability to communicate, discuss, and defend their ideas. It’s critical to their success after they graduate.
As part of our story of renewal, we also restructured and rebranded. When I started as principal, we were “Henry Street School for International Studies,” for students in grades 6-12. But there was no strong international studies component, and trying to focus on both middle and high school grades weakened instruction. So we became Orchard Collegiate Academy – a 9-12 school whose focus on getting our students to college is now clear to anyone who hears our name. This revamp has been essential to our success.
Now, New York State has designated us a School in Good Standing. Our enrollment is growing, with 70 9th-graders this year. Our preliminary graduation rate last year was 66 percent, and I’m aiming for 90 percent this year. And this week, we were named one of New York City’s 21 “Rise Schools” – schools that have made enough gains to transition out of the Renewal program. While some things will change, I’m excited that, as a Rise School, we’ll continue to have our Community Schools model and the targeted investments and supports that have been essential to our progress.
We have developed a clear vision, clear goals, and a clear path to success for our kids and families. Orchard Collegiate Academy is clearly on the rise, and I’m looking forward to all the work that lies ahead.
Miles Doyle is the principal of Orchard Collegiate Academy, a high school on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.