Despite place on state list, Francis Lewis still a top school

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Francis Lewis High School is one of the best neighborhood schools in New York City. We pride ourselves on being a school of excellence for all students. We are one of the most diverse schools in the city with students from more than 66 different countries working harmoniously together.

But Francis Lewis was recently placed on the state’s list of “Schools in Need of Improvement” because we needed six additional students to pass their required math and/or English Regents who fall in the subgroup of students with disabilities. Ironically, that is 0.13 percent of a student population of 4,460. Now, I am all for accountability, especially for those students who are in the greatest need of academic services, but the misconception and fear generated by the association with this list can have a significant effect on whether parents decide to send their children to Francis Lewis.

Francis Lewis met every other metric on the state report card and increased in every statistical category from the previous year. In fact, our graduation rate for students with disabilities improved by 38 percent.

Here is my quick attempt to better explain what this means in simple terms.

Adequate Yearly Progress is the measure by which schools, districts and states are held accountable for student performance. A school is placed on the SINI list because a segment of the student population does not meet a particular benchmark that the New York State Education Department sets for the school.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law by the federal government in 2002, the NYSED has not met AYP for students with disabilities, English as a Second Language and other categories for eight consecutive years. The NYSED changed the calculation for AYP at the start of the 2010 school year. This change in calculation resulted in a 41 percent increase in the number of high schools added to the SINI list.

It was a surprise to many people when the state identified Francis Lewis as a school in need of improvement. But we knew where we stood regarding every student in every subgroup in our building. Those students who required extra time to master a subject received a tremendous amount of additional academic support. I am confident that those students will reach their goal in mastering the subject and passing their exams.

At Francis Lewis, we are proud of all of our students. We have great pride in our JROTC students ranking No. 1 in the country. We have the most cadets at the West Point Academy of any single public high school nationwide. Francis Lewis students consistently shine in high-level competitions. We were the only New York City school this year to have three Siemens semifinalists. Our math, debate and sports teams all rank at the top of their respective leagues. Our students are exposed to a wealth of after-school and extra-curricular activities. Last year’s graduating class received more than $26 million in college scholarships and awards.

A school committed to success is always striving to find ways to continue to improve itself. Improvement should be the goal of all schools. This is why we are certain that Francis Lewis will always be a school of excellence for all of our students. Labeling Francis Lewis a SINI school will not stop us from continued success.

The most precious gifts in our lives are our children. Parents should always be confident that their child is in the hands of a school community that is nurturing and treats every child as an individual. Francis Lewis embodies these ideals.

M. Ali Shama


Francis Lewis High School

Fresh Meadows

Note: This letter has been corrected since publication to reverse an editing error and clarify that Ali Shama is talking about the New York State Education Department.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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