Volume 23, Number 15 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 18 - 24, 2010
Millennium High School, lacking classroom space, has to hold classes in hallways such as this one. It is one of the top ten most overcrowded schools in the city, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office.
Millennium will hold classes in hallways, three years in a row
BY Aline Reynolds
Millennium High School will be holding classes in hallways for the third year in a row, and the school’s principal, Robert Rhodes, is not happy about it.
“[Hallways] are hard to teach in, because they’re not enclosed,” said Rhodes, who teaches a few classes a year on top of his full-time job as head of the school.
Millennium’s enrollment has risen from 576 in 2008-09 to a projected 630 in 2010-11. It now has nearly 100 students over the Department of Education’s suggested enrollment for the 80,000-square-foot school, located at 75 Broad Street.
Around 90 classes per week will be held in the school’s lounge areas, large hallways temporarily set up as classrooms. Classes conducted in the hallways are truncated; as a result students lose several minutes of valuable instructional time.
“They lose a minute or two in the beginning or end [of class] when the [other] classes are passing by,” Rhodes said. “A minute or two doesn’t seem like a lot, but it adds up” to around three full classes in an academic year.
“No teacher says, ‘I’m really looking forward to working in my hallway,’” said Assistant Principal Colin McEvoy.
On top of the anticipated disruptions to a normal classroom setting, “you have the added effort of overcoming hallway noise,” he added. Rhodes chimed in and said the acoustics in the lounges are poor.
Millennium’s students are equally bothered by the makeshift classrooms. Upcoming senior Jackie Benfield said the portable blackboards are “kind of hard to see; depending on where you’re sitting, you might not be facing them.”
“When classes get out, it can get a little distracting,” commented Zoe Bortz, also a soon-to-be senior.
Growing class sizes and loss of funding
Class sizes at the school are also growing and Rhodes mentioned the trend associated with having too many kids in one room. They get less individualized attention, and the failure rate tends to increase.
The school is also losing more government funding and two of its teachers this year, forcing Rhodes to do away with several electives. Millennium High has seen a 15.5 percent cut -- over half a million dollars -- in its annual budget since January 2008. It will have to discontinue environmental science, Advanced Placement Art and five other electives in the coming school year alone, double the amount of programming lost in the last two years.
“One way we’ve tried to help keep our programs was by taking in more students,” explained Millennium’s Parent Coordinator Angela Benfield, Jackie’s mother. Larger class sizes, she explained, would normally make the school a stronger candidate for more city funding. “But it’s not working. More [budget] cuts are coming through,” added Benfield.
Two of the school’s full-time teachers have left, forcing the rest to each take on one additional class period per week, on average, for no extra pay.
“If they hadn’t left, I would have had to get rid of two people,” Rhodes said.
The heavier a teacher’s course load, the less time he or she will be able to devote to preparing for each class, Rhodes explained.
“No [teachers] have left because of it yet,” he said. “How long they will be able to maintain [the work load] is something I worry about a lot.”
Despite these setbacks, the school remains extremely popular and difficult to get into. A prospective 9th grader is less likely to get a seat in Millennium’s class than the average high school graduate is to be accepted into most colleges. For the 2010-11 school year, the school only had capacity for 150 – or three percent - of the 4,500 incoming freshman that applied.
“It’s been a long, hard [selection] process,” Rhodes said.
The process is based on grades and test scores and students who live in Lower Manhattan and meet the screening criteria are given preference over those who live elsewhere.
Rhodes hopes that the D.O.E. will build more schools in the Downtown area to create additional seats for neighborhood students and alleviate overcrowding at Millennium High. Currently, there are 25 high schools south of Canal Street, according to the D.O.E.
“As the Independent Budget Office recently confirmed, this administration has made major strides in reducing overcrowding across the entire city, with the largest reduction in overcrowding coming in Manhattan,” D.O.E. spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said in a statement.
A gymnasium for Millennium, the subject of a five-year battle with the city, would free up instructional classroom space. The school has been sitting on $4.5 million of pledged state and city money to build a gym, but the city hasn’t yet settled on a suitable space for it.
“We would take all those classes out of the halls and put them back in instructional spaces without losing any programs,” Rhodes said.
And without a gym, the students have few opportunities to participate in team sports. For the most part, they’re limited to individualized activities, such as yoga, dance, and physical fitness.
The city was considering using the building’s 34th floor, but safety issues nixed that plan. Over the past two years, the principal has proposed five other spaces in the Downtown area to the School Construction Authority, a branch of the city D.O.E., but has received no reply.
“I’m very worried that the money will end up going to other uses,” Rhodes said.
In the meantime, students at Millennium High are being shortchanged in their educational experience, he said.
“I feel bad for the kids – it’s a lot of missed opportunities for the students. They only get to do high school once.”