School Improvement Scenarios for High School of Graphic Communication Arts


■  High School of Graphic Communication Arts (“Graphic”) has struggled for years. Graduation rates have remained below 50% for more than a decade. While there has been some recent improvement in the school’s graduation rate, rising to 44% in 2009, it remains well below the citywide 63% average.[1]

■  Graphic staff and families have worked hard to improve the school. The Department of Education (DOE) also provided considerable support to Graphic. Over the past few years alone, that has included extensive teacher training, funding and guidance to restructure the school into Small Learning Communities, and support for the school’s Career and Technical Education programs. Unfortunately, our best efforts have not yet turned the school around.

■  As you may know, the New York State Education Department named Graphic as one of the “Persistently Lowest Achieving” (PLA) schools in the entire state.

■  As a result, the DOE is developing an action plan to better support students. We need to take one of two aggressive actions: 

  • Keeping the school open and continuing to support it, but even more intensively through:
    • Staff replacement;
    • Leadership change;
    • Bringing in mentor teachers at higher salaries; and/or
    • Introducing new programs.

  • Replacing the school by:
    • Phasing out the school over time by not accepting new students;
    • Supporting current students through graduation; and
    • Bringing in new district or charter school(s) to gradually grow in the building..

At this point, we have no specific plans in mind for High School of Graphic Communication Arts.

We understand that many Graphic students, families, and staff members believe in the school’s potential, and we know that this is difficult news. At the same time, we hope you share our view that we can—and must—do better for students.

In the coming weeks, we will work with you to figure out how to help students. We will talk to parents, students, staff, and members of the Graphic community as well as people and organizations that work with the school. We are particularly interested to learn about things that may not be obvious on paper: What do you think is working well at the school? What is not working?

Based on that feedback, as well as a thorough review of school data, we will propose an action plan that we believe will best benefit current and future students.

Please be assured that the DOE will continue to work closely with Graphic staff and families to see that all students receive the support they need to succeed in school. We look forward to your feedback throughout this process.

Sharing Your Concerns and Questions

The Department of Education is seeking your feedback. We will answer your questions and listen to your concerns as we develop a formal proposal for the school.

Parents, staff, and other community members may submit questions and comments at any time:

Gentian Falstrom


High School of Graphic Communication Arts Has Struggled for Years

Graduation rates at Graphic have remained at low levels—below 50%—for the past decade.

■  The school’s four-year graduation rate has recently improved— reaching 44% (including August graduates) in 2009.1 Even with this progress, it remained well below the citywide 63% average.

■  If Regents diplomas alone counted toward graduation—as will be the case in just one year—the four-year graduation rate at Graphic would drop to just 22%. Unlike the overall graduation rate, the Regents rate has not improved significantly, fluctuating between 19% and 23% over the past five years.

■  The school’s attendance rate continues to be low. The 2008-2009 average attendance rate was 75%, far below the 86% citywide average high school attendance rate that year.

■  The Graphic was rated Underdeveloped with Proficient Features on its most recent Quality Review in 2009-2010. During Quality Reviews, experienced educators spend several days visiting a school, observing classrooms, and talking to staff, students, and parents. This rating indicates serious deficiencies in the way Graphic is organized to support student learning. It also represents a decline from Proficient ratings in prior years.

■  Safety issues have been a concern at Graphic. On the 2010 New York City School Survey, 28% of students reported that they don’t feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms, and locker rooms at the school.

Despite Performance Struggles, Demand for Seats Has Held Steady

■  Demand for seats in the four Educational Option programs at Graphic has remained steady over the last few years, although some programs continue to attract more students than others within the school.

■  We have worked with the Principal to reduce the number of incoming ninth-graders so that more students who enroll are those who have selected the school as a top choice on their High School Application rather than entering through the “Over the Counter” process.

Despite Our Best Efforts, Performance at Graphic Remains Low

Graphic’s staff have worked hard to improve the school, but the school has not yet turned around. The DOE also extended considerable support to Graphic, including:

■  Funding and support to restructure the school into Smaller Learning Communities.

■  Working with the school to reduce enrollment and phasing-out the Academy of Print Media, the Academy with the lowest demand, as part of a campus-wide plan to focus attention on a smaller number of academies and students.

■  Extensive teacher training around a range of issues including curriculum planning, improving teaching practices, and individualizing teaching to meet each student’s needs. In addition, we provided training specifically related to implementing the Small Learning Communities initiative within the school.

■  Support for teaching teams focused on the needs of targeted student populations, such as English language learners, special education students, or students who are struggling academically.

■  Fostering opportunities for teachers and administrators to connect with colleagues in other schools, allowing them to learn from one another, improve instruction, and better support students.

■  Support in recruiting talented teachers.

As we consider possible options for the future of Graphic, we will be analyzing past strategic improvement efforts at the school to help us identify what has been working and what has not. This information will guide our thinking about how best to support students and the community going forward.

We Know That We Can Do Better

Graphic serves a high-need population: 12% of students are English language learners and 20% require special education services. But other schools serving similar students have achieved far better results.[2]

■  At the Acorn School for Social Justice, which is in Graphic’s peer group, 6% of students are English language learners and 20% require special education services. Acorn’s four-year graduation rate last year was 75%, with 47% of students earning Regents diplomas. The school also had a 91% attendance rate.

■  At Belmont Preparatory High School, which is in Graphic’s peer group, 19% of students are English language learners and 19% of students require special education services. That school achieved a 62% four-year graduation rate in 2009, with 52% of students earning Regents diplomas.

We Remain Focused on Helping Graphic Students to Succeed

Please be assured that the DOE will work closely with Graphic’s staff to ensure that students get the support they need—this year and in the future. In the immediate term, we will build on past efforts to support the school, including:

■  Helping the school better support its highest-need students, including English language learners, special education students, and students who are performing below grade-level.

■  Working to identify areas where professional development is needed and assisting the school in meeting those needs.

■  Helping to create and enhance relationships with community partners.

What You Can Expect

Over the coming weeks we will carefully review school data as well as your feedback. As we move forward through this process and begin to shape a plan for the school, we will be able to provide additional details about how that proposal would impact students and the broader High School of Graphic Communications community.

Regardless of the outcome of this process, the DOE will work continuously with Graphic’s staff and families to ensure that students receive the support they need and the excellent education they deserve.

[1] This figure represents the City’s calculation of the four-year graduation rate on annual Progress Reports.  It is similar to the State method, and typically there is only modest deviation between our calculation and the State rate.
[2] Demographic data cited in this section is from the 2008-2009 school year to align with performance data from that same year. Information will be updated when 2009-2010 Progress Reports are released.