Top 100 Best High Schools 2013 – Townsend Harris High School – Newsweek – 43/100
Townsend Harris High School
Townsend Harris High School is a public magnet high school for the humanities in the borough of Queens in New York City. Students and alumni often refer to themselves as “Harrisites.” Townsend Harris consistently ranks as among the top 100 High Schools in the United States. It currently operates as #33 out of 100 according to U.S. News and World Report and was recently named #1 high school in New York City by the New York Post.
149-11 Melbourne Ave, Flushing, NY 11367, United States
The school is named for Townsend Harris, who besides his many diplomatic accomplishments, had helped found the Free Academy of the City of New York, later to become City College, and was a strong proponent of free education. The Free Academy’s introductory year gradually evolved and in 1904 became a full fledged, 3-year high school, housed on three floors of what is now Baruch College  This original incarnation, known as Townsend Harris Hall, survived until 1942 when it was closed by mayor Fiorello La Guardia. La Guardia’s officially stated reason was budgetary concerns, but it has been suggested that he had ulterior motives. Townsend Harris High School was refounded in 1984 thanks largely to the efforts of alumni of the original school, who had begun the process in 1980. The first principal was Dr. Malcolm Largmann, a former high school English teacher with a strong belief in a classically styled education who also handpicked the school’s original faculty. The new school began life in a small building on Parsons Boulevard, originally intended as a temporary home until a permanent facility could be realized. In early 1995, the school moved into a new building located on the campus of Queens College.
Originally entrance to the school was based on competitive examination. Today high grades are required. Today, well over 5,000 students compete for approximately 270 seats in the freshman class each year based on their middle school grades, standardized test scores and even attendance records. Admission is available to all New York City residents in 8th grade. A minimum grade point average of 90 is required of all applicants to be considered for admission. Minimum standardized reading and math scores at the 90th percentile are also required (682 for reading and 713 for math). Some seats are available for 9th graders wishing to start Townsend as sophomores, though as the number depends on the number of students who decide to leave the school during freshman year the number varies significantly from year to year; in 2006, only 5 were available. Initially, the admissions process really included an interview and a writing component, but this was eliminated by 1988. Upon matriculation, students take a writing and math exam.
In addition to the standard three-year Regents English program, all students take a “fifth year” of English as freshman in the form of classes in linguistics and writing processes. In addition to the standard modern language requirement which may be fulfilled with classes in Spanish, French or Japanese, students must have a two-year classical language requirement which can be fulfilled by classes in Latin or classical Greek (in addition, Hebrew is offered as an elective course). There is also a rigorous physical education requirement, especially freshman gym, and a senior project required of students. A variety of electives and AP classes are also offered to students. As of 2004, AP World History became a mandatory subject and replaced the Regents-level course. Every subject requires students to execute at least one major project a year, with history classes requiring one per semester and English several per semester. These projects are referred to as “collaterals.”
In the 2008-2009 school year, Townsend Harris is offering the following Advanced Placement (AP) classes: World History, United States History, United States Government, Environmental Science, Psychology, Calculus AB/BC, Computer Science, Japanese Language and Culture, Latin: Vergil, Statistics, French Language, Art History, and Spanish Language, Spanish Literature.
The most notable feature of the school’s curriculum is the senior “bridge year” program. Students in good standing may take up to 12 credits at Queens College at no cost to themselves. This includes a required humanities seminar co-taught by Harris teachers and Queens College faculty. Though the class is offered by the college, it is open exclusively to Harris students. The curriculum and format is fairly similar to the Great Books seminars required of liberal arts freshman at colleges around the world.
Recently, a number of other New York City public high schools have been established that have similar “bridge year” programs. These include the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, and Bard High School Early College.
In sharp contrast with the original school which was open to male students only, the new school has been dominated by female students from its inception, today comprising approximately 70% of the student population.
As of 2006, the school’s minority population is largely Asian, with the New York City Department of Education’s “Asian and other” category making up 44% of the student body total, comprising the largest segment of the school’s population. White students comprise 37% of the population, Hispanic students 12% and black students 7%.
The school maintains a 100% graduation rate.