By Philip Newman
Jamaica High School, a majestic structure of pillars and towers overlooking the southeastern Queens community it has served for a century, is rich in over-achieving alumni ranging from a doo-wopgroup to a Dodgers owner.
The list of Jamaica HS boys and girls who made it big is long, but some of the better known include:
• John Mitchell, attorney general under former President Richard Nixon
• movie director Francis Ford Coppola
• author Laura Z. Hobson
• humorist Art Buchwald
• author Paul Bowles
• Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley
• doo-wop pioneers The Cleftones, including Charlie Jones, William McClane. Herb Cox, Berman Patterson and Warren Corbin
• women’s issues writer Letty Cottin Pogrebin
• sportswriter George Vecsey
• U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-Houston) of Texas
• former Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chief Elliot Sander
• film director Josef Von Sternberg
• former City Councilman Sheldon Leffler
• City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and David Weprin (D-Hollis), state Sen. Hiram Monserrate (D-East Elmhurst) and state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck)
• Ellen Hart, restaurateur and former Miss Subways
The renowned school is more than a century old, although the present building, designed by William Gompert, opened in 1927 in answer to a Queens area that was rapidly growing after the opening of the Queensboro Bridge and an influx from Brooklyn looking for more room in what was then a more suburban area.
Although the graduation rate rose by 10 percent after the state Department of Education removed Jamaica HS from the “persistently dangerous” list, its graduation rate has lingered at just below 50 percent.
It was only 24 years ago that the U.S. Department of Education named Jamaica HS as “the best secondary school in America.”
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.