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New York City's Best Public High Schools: A Parent's Guide


New York City

Clara Hemphill

Some people don't have an optimistic view of the New York City Public School System, but author Clara Hemphill does.

Though it isn't a large number, 10 percent of the New York City public schools are good schools, Hemphill said at the TC BookTalk about her guidebook, New York City's Best Public High Schools: A Parent's Guide (TC Press). This shows that good schools are possible. Public education is not a lost cause and should not be privatized, she said. "Vouchers are a dead end. I think they are impractical. They are not a useful way to get education to the largest number of kids," said Hemphill who spoke at one of the highly-rated schools, Fiorello H. Laguardia High School. "If we do this, then subways and jury duty will be the only places that different races and classes will mix in the city."

Hemphill, who is Director of the Public School Information Center at Advocates for Children of New York, was a journalist for 20 years in New York and working abroad as a staffer for the Associated Press, CBS News, New York Newsday and as a freelance contributor for the New York Daily News, The New York Times and New York Magazine. She and other staffers at New York Newsday shared the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. Currently, she is using her skills as a reporter to build public support for the institution of public education that has come under so much attack.

She stressed that there isn't one school that is perfect, but there is a perfect school for your child. "Don't make your children hostages to political idealism," she said. "Send them to the school that's best for them." That's where Hemphill's book comes in. "It's not just a guidebook like Zagat's, but it also helps urban planning and political support for public education," she said.

In addition, her center launched a Web site based on her book ( that will not only review all 1,200 public schools in the city but serves as a forum and news site about education. "It's not just news as information, but news as advocacy for social change," she said of her Web site and her book. "I am advocating for decent public schools for every child."

The time for public education in New York City to change for the better is now, said Hemphill, whose own children are currently enrolled in New York City public schools. The schools weren't always in trouble, and they could be good again. People are choosing to stay in the city rather than move out to the suburbs because real estate prices are up and more women are working. There are more immigrants who want to attend good schools to get better jobs. And, there is a tremendous growth in the number of African Americans with high income in the middle class.

She is also optimistic about the Mayor's new plans. The more people with political clout who use the public schools, the more they will change. "I am not sure his plans are detailed," she said, "but his general plan is that someone has to be in charge and that he is staking his reputation on it-which is good."previous page