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A dozen public high schools place among elite in state, U.S. rankings

By Kelsey Durham

One of the many perks about living in Queens is having easy access to several public high schools that are often credited as being some of the best in the country.

Despite enrollment numbers that at some schools have peaked to more than twice their capacity in the last decade, Queens remains home to a handful of high schools that continue to boast academic progress impressive enough to land them among the most elite secondary schools. In the 2014 figures published by U.S. News & World Report, 12 high schools in Queens were named in the top 100 in the state, while two of the most superior institutions were in the top 100 in the country.

At the top of the list is Townsend Harris in Flushing, which pulled in the ranking of the fifth best high school in New York state, coming in at No. 40 in the nation. Queens High School for Sciences, located on the campus of York College in Jamaica, was listed as the eighth best public high school in the state and was ranked No. 57, nationally.

To the teachers and parents who make up the support systems that help propel these schools to the top, there are many factors that contribute to the success they experience each year. One of the major components of their progress is the ability to offer specialized classes, even in community high schools.

Other schools to make U.S. News & World Report’s list of the top 100 schools in the state include The Baccalaureate School For Global Education at No. 26, Floral Park Memorial High School at No. 53, High School for the Arts and Business at No. 59, Scholars’ Academy at No. 65, Academy of Finance and Enterprise at No. 66, Academy of American Studies at No. 69, Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School at No. 72, Benjamin Cardozo High School at No. 75, Francis Lewis High School at No. 76 and Forest Hills High School at No. 85.

“We have the resources to offer a very enriching and deep academic program in all areas,” said David Marmor, principal at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows. “You don’t necessarily have to know when you’re 14 years old what you want to do with the rest of your life, but if you change your mind, you don’t have to transfer.”

At Francis Lewis, students can choose between several subjects, known as academic majors, that focus on topics and areas of study in which they are most interested. The school boasts an excellent scientific research program, Marmor said, and is set to add its first organized drama program at the start of the next school year.

He said the specialized areas of study have improved the students’ focus on succeeding in school by giving them class options to which they are truly connected.

“It’s really led to students being more engaged and grounded to the building,” Marmor said. “The whole point is to have students choose an area they’re really interested in, that they feel personally invested in, and it sort of helps them stay connected to their school work.”

Marmor noted that no school can thrive without the drive and motivation of its students and teachers, and the desire to succeed must be present in all of them.

“It starts with the kids,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), who said she believes the students and faculty in the school are the major component of a truly successful institution.

Stavisky spent more than six years as a public high school teacher in New York City before being elected to office, and she now serves on the state Senate’s education committee. With her vast experience in the city’s school system, she has seen several ingredients over the years that make up the recipe for a successful high school, and, aside from the students, the parents are also one of the most important factors, she said.

“You need parents who are involved in their children’s education,” Stavisky said. “I see it in the districts I represent — in Districts 25, 26 and 28 — and we know that sometimes it’s difficult for parents because they work or they may be a single-parent household, but they’re still involved in their child’s education and that’s critical.”

In the time he has spent in the Queens education system, Marmor said he has seen it drastically improve over the past decade to reach the point at which it now sits, and much of the credit goes to the teachers and students who strive for success each and every day. Looking ahead to the future of public education across the borough, he said it is important to remember the vast range of options that the diversity of Queens has to offer students.

“You don’t have to spend three or four hours traveling to a school outside the borough when you have some of the best ones right in your own neighborhood,” he said.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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