Making the Grade: Examining the Valley’s High Schools

The economic downturn has forced educators throughout the region to do more with less. Here’s a look at how four local schools are helping their students succeed with innovative programs and special services. Want to know how your child’s school measures up? Check our chart, which lists stats for 65 Valley high schools


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Washingtonville High School

Kids come first at Washingtonville High School, says principal Michael Rossi. “We really focus on student-centered education,” he says, adding that to be effective, a school should ideally motivate and engage students — not just offer rote-learning in order to meet mandated state or federal requirements.

“It’s important to encourage kids to be accountable for their own learning, and to teach them skills such as problem-solving that helps increase confidence,” he says.

“A main goal here at Washingtonville High is to maximize our students’ education in the most effective way,” he adds. The staff, for instance, is constantly evaluating and adjusting its curriculum to enhance learning.

To that end, for example, the grade 9-12 school in Orange County has turned to a block-scheduling approach. “Students take four periods a day, of 82 minutes each.”

That way, Rossi says, teachers and students have more time to dig into a subject — compared to standard shorter periods, when it sometimes seems like the class-dismissal bell rings almost as soon as the learning gets started.

“Also, kids aren’t as overwhelmed with homework at the end of the day, because they accomplish more in class,” he says. Still another plus of block scheduling, Rossi says: “It gives students a good sense of the structure of what college courses will be like.”

Washingtonville High boasts its share of well-known past students including Hollywood’s Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for The Bourne Identity and the rest of the Bourne trilogy, and recently directed the Oscar-nominated 2007 George Clooney legal thriller Michael Clayton — filmed partly in Orange County. (Actor Mel Gibson also attended Washingtonville for a year before his family moved to Australia in the 1960s.)


Celebrities aside, the school of about 1,600 students has a solid academic focus, with a full Regents program, advanced placement courses, and added assistance for kids who require extra tutoring.

“We encourage collaborative teaching, and have tools such as support teams and teaching assistants in the classrooms,” Rossi says.

The school itself expanded in 2007 with a new $9 million wing that houses a dozen added classrooms and three high-tech computer labs.
Despite budget cuts being the norm just about everywhere these days, Washingtonville’s extracurricular activities such as sports and school clubs have so far remained intact.

“A lot of districts are in economic dire straits,” Rossi says. “We’re always trying to think outside the box, and work well and creatively with what we have to spend.”

Parents are also active participants in the school, Rossi says, and its kids reach out to the surrounding community, too.

In May, for instance, Washingtonville High honor society students will host a very special senior prom. Not for graduating seniors — that one’s later in the year — this dance is especially for senior citizens who live in the region. Elders are invited to the school cafeteria, which will be spiffily decorated by students. There, the seniors can enjoy a dinner, then dance the night — or at least the early part of the evening — away, at the free event.

Next class: Germantown High School, Columbia County
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