Hillcrest gets A on progress report for biggest jump in boro

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Hillcrest High School Principal Stephen Duch plans to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary with a party in the spring. Hillcrest recently received an A on the city’s school progress reports. Photo by Christina Santucci
Babu Rahman (l.) and Pargat Singh are both students in the Pre-Med Institute. Photo by Christina Santucci
Brian Denton (r.), a social studies teacher in the Senior Future Academy, checks classwork with Reyes Ali (l.) and Swarsatie Singh, as Hillcrest HS Principal Stephen Duch (back) looks on. Photo by Christina Santucci
Rayhan Uddin speaks about the school's Virtual Enterprise Program. Photo by Christina Santucci
Lavonia Fricano, one of two librarians, shows off the library. Photo by Christina Santucci
Amar Nepal, assistant principal of data, points to school statistics showing an improvement in the city's school progress reports. Photo by Christina Santucci
Hillcrest graduate Saqif Choudhury returns to the school to visit his teachers Monday. Photo by Christina Santucci
A plane hangs in the hallway of Hillcrest High School. Photo by Christina Santucci
A mural with a map of the United States contains information about colleges around the country. Photo by Christina Santucci
Johnny Aucacama (back) and Eroberto Rodriguez do some in class reading. Photo by Christina Santucci
Student Gabriel Thompson packs up his computer. Photo by Christina Santucci
Sara Reyes in the Senior Future Academy writes on the board during class. Photo by Christina Santucci
Brian Panepinto, a humanities and journalism teacher, speaks about a project called the "Cemetery of Wasted Potential," for which students wrote about celebrities whose deaths have been linked to substance abuse. Photo by Christina Santucci
Anupam Das (back) and MD Adnanul pull up a website with the offerings of their virtual company. Photo by Christina Santucci
Teacher David Ricaurte speaks about working to be a positive role model for Spanish-speaking students while helping them build a sense of pride for their cultures and school. Photo by Christina Santucci
Student Robert Williams (l.) gets a thumbs up from Principal Stephen Duch. Photo by Christina Santucci

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 or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:00 am, November 10, 2011
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Larry Nelson from Jamaica says:
Cool! I'm an alumnus of Hillcrest (class of '77), it's great to here great things about HHS! Congratulations on both achievements.
Nov. 10, 2011, 8:42 pm

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