Everything NYC Families Need To Know About Urban Assembly High Schools: Is One Right For Your Child?

When I speak to community organizations about Getting Into NYC High Schools, I stress that the summer between your child’s 7th and 8th grade year is the critical time to research all of your HS options, so that you can start the process of applying in September.

The best tool to begin your research used to be the telephone book-sized NYC High-School Directory, which listed school type, size, programs offered, extracurricular activities, how to apply, and your odds of getting in based on previous year’s numbers. 

As of 2019, that directory will no longer be available. Instead, there is the much smaller, less detailed 2020 High School Admissions Guide. The majority of the information that used to be available in the directory is now on the My Schools Parent Portal. Which spent most of last year demonstrating how many different ways it could glitch

Oh, and it hasn’t been fully updated for 2020 admissions season yet.

So what are anxious parents and teens supposed to do?

You can start by clicking on our Cheat Sheet For Figuring Out All Your High School Choices – And How To Get Them. You can watch this video or listen to this podcast

Then, to take it to the next level from generalities to specifics, you can read the interview below with Alexis Goldberg, Managing Director of School Support for the Urban Assembly public school network, as she explains what they have to offer our NYC kids:

New York School Talk: What is Urban Assembly, when was it created, how, and why?

Alexis Goldberg: The Urban Assembly was started as a school support organization in 1997. Under the Bloomberg/Klein administration, there was energy and movement around developing small schools, and our founder Richard Kahan sought to open and sustain small, unscreened schools centered around a career-oriented theme.

Today, with a mission to advance students’ economic and social mobility by improving public education, the Urban Assembly continues to support the schools we founded over the last 20+ years in the five areas we believe are critical to school success: leadership, academics, social and emotional learning, postsecondary access and career readiness. At the Urban Assembly central office, we provide our schools with tools, resources, coaching and plenty of professional learning to support their growth in those areas.

NYST: Your focus is on small schools. What do you see as the benefit? What are some of the drawbacks?

AG: We believe all students deserve to feel safe and loved at their schools, and we know that we can do this well, and nimbly, in the small school structure. The benefit of small schools is the opportunity to ensure that all students are known well by an adult in the building. 

Some of the drawbacks to small schools are structural: In shared spaces, schools compete for limited resources like the gym and lunchroom, for example, or the most advantageous bell schedule. Other drawbacks are about the flexibility you lose when you don’t have a large staff and the attendant funding. When, for example, you can only have one teacher per subject per grade, there are trade offs around the content you offer. Since UA believes that students deserve access to rich coursework, and plenty of opportunities, we work alongside our schools and leverage the power of our community, partners, and central office staff to find creative solutions to these challenges.

For example, we help our schools to share resources among themselves to expand their course offerings, or support our schools to develop partnerships that bring resources to their students. We also conduct coursework audits and help school leaders think about trade offs – with our expert understanding of both what colleges want to see on their applications to make the most competitive candidates, and our analysis of the current labor market, we are well positioned to provide thoughtful guidance to improve the long term flourishing of our students.

NYST: You have three all-girl schools in your network. Why the single-sex model, and will you be doing something similar for boys?

AG: The Urban Assembly is founded on the belief that principals are instructional leaders within their schools. In our school founding stage, we sought educators who wanted to think creatively and work in innovative models and approaches to the work. The single sex model was one example of this, alongside our approach to CTE (Career & Technical Education), and as a result we are able to offer choices to the families of New York City. Our next chapter will not be creating new schools, but as we grow the network of schools we support, we are interested in, and actively seeking partnerships with schools that already exist, including boys schools.

NYST: Nine of your schools focus on Career and Technical Education. What are some of the themes you focus on and why did you choose these particular ones?

AG: Our CTE focus is really about preparing our young people for the future. Both our schools with Career and Technical Education pathways and our schools with themes work to offer robust opportunities to our students. Our CTE schools are created with analysis of the current and projected labor markets and career sectors – such as our focus on supply chain management at The Urban Assembly School for Global Commerce and emergency management at The Urban Assembly School for Emergency Management; or with an eye towards a sustainable future, with schools like The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School and The Urban Assembly School for Green Careers. We also offer opportunities for students to learn critical skills for the world of work across sectors, with pathways like computer science at The Urban Assembly High School for Computer Science, digital media at The Urban Assembly Maker Academy (read an interview with principal Luke Baue, here) and information technology at The Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology

At all our schools, CTE or otherwise, we strive to provide real world learning opportunities, such as internships, work based learning opportunities and partnerships where partners engage in meaningful ways with the school community. These might look like a visit to a maker lab at Parsons, a networking event at CISCO, or hosting a school competition that is judged by members of the NYC Dept. of Emergency Management. In all cases, we work alongside our schools to maximize authentic learning opportunities for our students.

NYST: Which results are you most proud of since the Urban Assembly Schools first opened?

AG: We are proud to have developed and sustained a group of schools that maintain their individual identities while still sharing a collective set of beliefs and values that are enacted by our community of passionate, invested school leaders. We currently serve a student population that is 93% students of color, 85% at or below the poverty line and 21% receiving Special Education Services, and are proud that we remain open to all students of New York City and can boast an overall graduation rate of 82% for 2018 (outpacing the city average of 73%). We also currently have an 85% rate of college enrollment for all UA graduating classes to date.

NYST: What are your goals for the short and long-term future?

AG: For the 2019-20 school year, the Urban Assembly is expanding our reach by supporting new schools that we did not create. We are taking on the role of “model provider” in order to partner with new schools and provide our supports to more schools, and thus – more students.

For next year we are delighted to share that we are partnering with The Global Learning Collaborative and The Bronx Academy for Software Engineering. For these schools, and others we may partner with, we will be providing our integrated support in five key areas: leadership, academics, social and emotional learning, postsecondary access and career readiness. 

As we do in all of our schools, we will collaborate with them to support their identified needs, support with coaching, resources and access to our communities of practice. And, as we bring them into our school support community, we are delighted to have an opportunity to learn and grow from their strong practices.

To learn more about Urban Assembly, visit:

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