Hillcrest High School in Jamaica celebrated two achievements this year: its 40th anniversary and receiving an A on the city’s high school progress report for the 2010-11 academic year.
The school, at 160-05 Highland Ave., was the only high school in Queens to improve by two letter grades on the Department of Education report, up from a C the previous year.
Hillcrest improved its score by increasing the rate of students who completed their remaining Regents exams by 16.5 percent, raising its four-year graduation rate by nearly 7 percent and by closing the achievement gap with high-need populations, such as English language learners and black and Hispanic males.
Hillcrest had a college-enrollment rate of 52.9 percent of its students last year. Principal Stephen Duch said the theme for this year is “40 and Fabulous,” and that the school is planning a large party for the spring that will include staff and alumni from the past four decades.
During a tour of the school Monday, Duch said Hillcrest, with approximately 3,400 students, received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation six years ago that it used to develop seven theme-based Small Learning Communities and two academies that enable the school to give specialized attention to students in a more comprehensive learning environment.
“With 450 students or less [in each SLC], we’re able to provide a high level of personalization for each student,” he said.
Before entering Hillcrest, students decide which Small Learning Community they would like to enroll in — the Pre-Med Institute or the School of Teaching, for example. Each SLC has its own director and guidance counselor who work with the school’s assistant principals and teachers to develop curriculum and individual action plans tailored to students’ needs.
Teacher Charlie Potter said the school’s structure helped to assist students in his social studies class who were struggling with vocabulary words on tests.
“We had meetings with teachers from different subjects, and we were able to identify a common language out of the different types of questions they were having trouble with,” he said. “We were able to go back to our SLC with what we know was giving them trouble.”
Hillcrest made significant gains in the number of students completing their global history Regents, ranking in the top 1 percent across the city.
In the business/technology SLC, students can participate in the Virtual Enterprise Program, where they create a mock company and are involved in every aspect of running it, from sales and marketing to accounting.
“We’ve replaced the concept of teaching in a small, isolated environment,” Duch said. “Here, they’re utilizing all these different skills at one time.”
Assistant Principal of Organization Deborah Ziozis said students demonstrate a lot of pride in their SLCs.
“They say, ‘I’m from Hillcrest,’ but they also say, ‘I’m Pre-Med’ or, ‘I’m part of the Newcomers Academy,’” she said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@