Urban Assembly Gateway for Technology graduates Venetia Boyce and Federico Leyva, who are headed to college with near-full scholarships, say they chose the small school after feeling lost in a big middle school. Photo: Meredith Kolodner

What does New York City's experiment reveal about the merits of small schools?

Federico Leyva remembers fights in the halls or lunchroom almost every day at his 2,000-student middle school in Queens. Sometimes the adults in the building would hear them and intervene, sometimes they wouldn’t. When it came time to apply to high school, he chose a small one.

“There’s personal attention — that’s the biggest difference for me,” said Federico, 17, who graduated from Urban Assembly Gateway for Technology in June with a near-full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston. “I think the fights occurred because there wasn’t the personal attention.”

In 2011, Federico joined the first class of ninth-graders at Gateway, one of four schools that replaced the High School for Graphic Communication Arts. That chaotic school was closed in 2013 after more than a decade of graduating barely half of its students. It was the last of more than 35 big-city high schools to be closed as part of a profound reorganization of New York City’s educational landscape begun in 2002 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his long-time schools chancellor, Joel Klein, with help from $150 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The reorganization completely revamped the high school system: about 70 percent of the city’s more than 400 high schools now have fewer than 500 students (although small schools enroll just over one-third of all city high school students).


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