Housed in the former Seward Park High School, Essex Street Academy is one of the most successful of the 200 small schools created by Chancellor Joel Klein since 2003. The 2009 progress reports released by the Department of Education ranked Essex Street Academy higher than 98 percent of the city's high schools, largely because of its success in graduating students who enter high school reading below grade level. The school's progress report showed that 84 percent of students graduate on time.
Although Essex Street Academy does not screen students for academic achievement, it has begun to attract stronger students as its reputation has grown in recent years, Principal Alex Shub says. "I believe our rigorous and engaging curriculum prepares students of all levels for success at college."
A 2009 report by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School singled out Essex Street Academy as a place where students who might otherwise drop out finish high school and go on to college. Small classes, attentive teachers, and a laser focus on what each student needs make the difference between success and failure, the report said. It described a girl, Taisha Jimenez, who, by her own account, had a foul mouth and nasty behavior for most of her freshman year. "But she said her teachers never gave up on her and were unfailingly respectful to her even as she was rude to them," the report said, adding that Taisha went on to college and successfully finished her first year.
Teachers say they find the work satisfying, even though they work longer hours than at a traditional school. Amy Basile, a math teacher, said she has classes of 20 at Essex Street Academy, compared to 34 at her previous school. "We have fewer students and more autonomy in the classroom," she said. "We all have ownership in this school."