High School for Law and Public Service

The principal and staff of the High School for Law and Public Service (HSLPS) believe shared leadership requires collaborative classrooms and curricula that motivate both students and teachers.

The ten “Beat the Odds” schools were selected after an extensive review of a Parthenon Group study and data from the New York City Department of Education. These schools’ innovative programs and outstanding leadership resulted in a higher than average graduation rate for students who typically either dropped out or did not graduate on time.

Background Study

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HSLPS’s small size supports the relationships that support learning.

Nick Politis, principal of the High School for Law and Public Service (HSLPS), has developed his own definition of shared leadership. Politis believes that it is about collaborative classrooms and curricula that motivate both students and teachers. As one of the four small schools in the old George Washington High School building, HSLPS has teachers working in teams to personalize instruction to fit each student’s learning capabilities. Although Politis heads up the HSLPS, the ownership of the school rests squarely with staff, teachers, students, and parents. The school culture might best be defined as a community of learners.

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Teachers and students connect at HSLPS.

Some teachers at HSLPS work with the same group of students from grade to grade. This “looping” strategy allows teachers to get to know individual students and, many believe, to increase the probabilities of meeting students’ instructional needs. It also creates opportunities to forge durable relationships with the students, giving them a sense of connectedness to the school community. The idea is that personal connectivity provides students with the confidence to seek and meet new and increasingly difficult challenges.

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Teachers and students share ideas.

Enter an HSLPS classroom and you are likely to witness Socratic dialogue in action. Standard lectures of traditional classrooms are out; free exchange of ideas between teacher and student is in. A workshop model of learning creates opportunities for students to explore topics in depth, encouraging them to ask questions of the material and of themselves. Classrooms are shared learning zones where students perform “share out” exercises to explore knowledge in a public forum.

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These HSLPS students have time to communicate their thinking.

The organization and delivery of programs must serve learning. To promote personalization and critical thinking in the classroom, teachers need every chance they can get to listen to students’ ideas and to review their work. School leaders have doubled some class periods from 45 to 90 minutes to provide more time for teachers to ask rigorous questions and for students to express themselves freely. Serendipitously, with an increase in time for concentrated study seems to have come an enhancement of trust among class members. Trust requires free and open communication, and such communication takes time—now people have that time.

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Students are at the heart of HSLPS.

Principal Politis views the people of HSLPS, not materials, books or technology, as his greatest asset. He exhibits a laser-like focus on hiring people who believe in the shared learning practices of HSLPS. He also believes that he must continue to invest in his staff, particularly in the new teachers. He hires mentors for the new teachers and provides ongoing professional development and support for the other faculty. The vision that drives resource allocation is one of small, interpersonally supportive classrooms that promote individualized learning.

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Politis hopes the foundation he has built will support the next stage of work at HSLPS.

There may be a little river boat gambler in every modern school leader. Nick Politis has beaten the odds by graduating 75 to 80% of Level 1 students in four years. The changing HSLPS population, particularly the influx of bilingual students, makes the continuation of this progress anything but certain. Politis and his staff are setting long-term goals to address such changes. Leaders realize that change is part of the process of leading dynamic organizations. Nick Politis and his colleagues will do their best to protect the values and the small-school feel that are so much a part of the HSLPS community—you can take that to the bank.