Principal Santiago Taveras came to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx this fall with a big mission: save the school before it simply ceases to exist.
This is personal to Taveras, a towering presence who everybody — students, faculty, and staff alike — calls “Santi.” He grew up in the Bronx, though wound up going to nearby Kennedy High School, instead. “That one was co-ed,” he jokingly explained to a student one day after school. “There weren’t any girls here when I would’ve gone.”
For years now, many top education officials have tried to carve up DeWitt Clinton’s stately building on Mosholu Parkway, nicknamed “the Castle on the Parkway,” into several smaller schools–a fate met by most other big, comprehensive high schools in New York City. Some proposals recommended the school be closed outright.
Taveras’ entrance onto the scene took the school off the chopping block when he arrived on campus as its new principal. Senior Department of Education officials know Taveras well. He is one of them, having moved up through the ranks from classroom teacher all the way to the cabinet of former chancellor Joel Klein. Taveras helped created the new data-based policies and programs that have changed the way schools are evaluated by administrators, teachers, students, and families alike.
Taveras has already witnessed progress in his short time there. Attendance rates are up and more students are passing core classes. He organized the school’s first dances and pep rallies in years, sparking a resurgence of pride in the school among both students and teachers. And he’s spent the year mapping a blueprint for reform–a proposal for five small learning communities, which he hopes will shore up a sense of community at the school battered over the years by a reputation for poor academics and frequent outbursts of violence.
With a reprieve from immediate closure, DeWitt Clinton now faces an even more daunting threat, one that may be far more difficult to combat. The city’s controversial School Progress Report, a Bloomberg-era initiative whose development and rollout Taveras personally oversaw, has listed DeWitt Clinton as an ‘F’ school the past three years — making it next to impossible to attract new students. In fact, its enrollment has collapsed by a couple hundred students each year, followed by cuts to faculty, staff, and programs to compensate for the reduced budget.
The school’s once-storied reputation is now the prime force working against it.
Read the full story, which I reported over the course of this semester with Alex Neason, at School Stories. (Photo by Alex Neason.)