Will Success Spoil Early-College?

Rising Cuny enrollment means much-lauded campus high schools could get the boot

Principal Alicia Perez-Katz says the school was "founded on a handshake," and when she took the reins several years ago and asked for details about the school's partnership with the college, she was surprised by the answer: "There was nothing." Since she became principal, Perez-Katz says, a tutoring program that used Baruch students foundered and the college stopped offering its students as BCCHS office assistants. So when Baruch decided to renovate the building that houses the high school, it didn't surprise her that BCCHS wasn't in the plans for the refurbished building.

"With different leadership at the college, the vision of the college is now different," Perez-Katz says. "We aren't seen as part of their vision and mission."

Baruch officials say that the decision to relocate BCCHS during the renovation, which is set to begin this summer, was the DOE's. As for when the building reopens, they say, BCCHS isn't in the plans because Baruch needs every square foot it can get, even though it just opened a massive "vertical campus" in the neighborhood. Baruch currently has just 64.6 square feet per student, one of the lowest ratios among the CUNY colleges, according to spokeswoman Christina Latouf. Nationally, colleges and universities maintained a median of 277 square feet per student last year, according to a survey conducted by American School & University, a higher education industry magazine.

Rachel Harris

"We cannot accommodate any more students," Latouf says about Baruch's campus. "And we're not in a position where we can relocate anything."

In September, BCCHS will reopen just two blocks north, in a bright and sunny building being vacated by another DOE school that's being closed due to poor performance. No longer will as many as four teachers have to share a classroom, and students will have their own lockers instead of tripling up with their classmates, as they must at Baruch.

But the location, on a quiet block just east of Madison Square Park, in the shadows of the MetLife building, feels like a different world to students who are accustomed to the hustle and bustle of 23rd Street. "I don't know how we'll be able to get our lunch in 30 minutes," one student worries.

Of greater concern to parents and administrators is the fact that the DOE's lease on the new space lasts only one more year, and it won't be renewed. No one knows where the school will be located come September 2010. DOE officials have promised that the school will remain in the same district, but they can't promise that its permanent location will be anywhere near Baruch College. Perez-Katz says the uncertainty hasn't affected applications because the school is considered successful in its own right. But Yvonne Attard, the mother of a graduating senior, says her daughter might not have chosen the school without the draw of being on Baruch's campus.

Recently, some students were surprised to learn that this summer's move isn't the last planned for the school. "We have to move again?" asked sophomore Ismeta Kolonovic in disbelief. "We should change our name."

Independently, Perez-Katz raised the same possibility. "Will we keep the 'campus' part of the name?" she asked. "We'll see."

A lot depends on whether BCCHS's relationship with Baruch survives the move. A greater distance apart could threaten the school's already-tenuous partnership with Baruch, Perez-Katz says. Despite its evolving vision, Baruch continues to run special sections of some advanced courses, such as calculus, just for BCCHS students, and Baruch students provide free SAT tutoring at the high school. Plus, motivated BCCHS upperclassmen can enroll in classes at Baruch on their own. Georgescu says her Baruch art professor was "amazing."

"I'm hopeful that we can maintain and develop the relationship," Perez-Katz says. "I really hope that the move doesn't put a boundary there."

Advocates for high school–college partnerships say a boundary might be unavoidable. Ted Killmer, a spokesman for the Middle College National Consortium, says a relationship is likely to become logistically unsustainable "if they move off a college campus further than a couple of blocks."

But CUNY and DOE officials say distance can be overcome with ingenuity and, in some cases, extra bus services. Cass Conrad, director of CUNY's Early College Initiative, says that many of the partnership schools flourish despite logistical obstacles. "Each school has kind of worked out methods that work for themselves," she adds.

One of those schools is the CSI High School for International Studies, which opened in 2005 on the edge of the College of Staten Island campus; it moved into a new building almost three miles away last September because the college, whose enrollment grew by more than 5 percent last year, wasn't able to provide more space for it. "I wouldn't walk it," Principal Aimee Horowitz says about the new distance.

But Horowitz says that by "planning strategically," her school hadn't suffered because of the move. The DOE runs a midday bus for advanced biology students who do their lab work at the college, and other students drive to the college for afternoon and evening classes. CSI students still come to the high school to work as tutors. It also doesn't hurt that the high school moved into a brand-new building, replete with a library, gym, state-of-the-art science labs, and more space than it had on the CSI campus, Horowitz says.

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