Malverne students, faculty and staff. (Used with permission)

I recently published a list of the 17  inaugural winners in the Schools of Opportunity project, a pilot initiative to identify and recognize public high schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through practices “that build on students’ strengths” — not by inundating them with tests.  (You can see the list here.)

Here is the second in a series of profiles about the winners that will highlight schools that are creating healthy environments for students, teachers and staff. Each high school recognized as 2015 Schools of Opportunity has supported and challenged its students — many of them at-risk — and its teachers, but each story is unique. The first story, here, featured Colorado’s Centaurus High School. This second profile looks at how one majority-minority school on Long Island,  Malverne High School, fosters a college-going culture and builds academic and social-emotional supports around students who need them.

The Schools of Opportunity project is the work of Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in the Rockville Centre School District in New York, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law. Burris was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, was named New York State High School Principal of the Year. She is taking early retirement at the end of the school year to advocate for public education. Welner is director of the National Education Policy Center at UC Boulder, which produces high-quality peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions.

You can visit the project’s website at

Here is a report on one winning school, written by Burris and Welner:

Malverne High School
Malverne, New York
Principal: Vincent Romano
Superintendent of Schools: James Hunderfund
Enrollment: 531
Economically disadvantaged students: 45%


By Kevin Welner and Carol Burris

Malverne High School, a Long Island community high school, is a majority minority school (62 percent black, 18 percent Latino) that encourages students to engage in rigorous coursework while maintaining a “success for all students” philosophy. Malverne holds students to high expectations, and its Board of Education ensures that schools have the funding needed to get the job done. By combining high expectations with the necessary supports and opportunities, the school illustrates how all students can achieve in a locally controlled, community high school.

[For first time, minority students are majority in U.S. public schools]

The distinctive features of Malverne include a commitment to making sure that as many students as possible enroll in — and are successful in — Advanced Placement courses. The school increased instructional time by offering an additional class period every other day. It also offers an extensive, eight-week, after-school review program prior to the AP tests. This has paid off for Malverne students—there has been a 21 percent increase in AP enrollment since 2011, along with a 19 percent increase in students scoring 3 or better on AP exams. Moreover, this reform has been equitable; AP enrollment is reflective of school demographics.

Malverne’s support of college-bound culture does not end with AP classes. It also provides a comprehensive SAT/ACT/PSAT prep program that meets on weeknights and Saturday mornings in the summer, fall, and winter. In 2014, 93 percent of all students took the SAT. This represented a significant increase in students taking the examination, yet Malverne’s overall average score increased. “Our school culture is centered on the belief that when students are held to high expectations and provided the necessary support, they can achieve success,” said Principal Vincent Romano.

That extra support goes well beyond AP courses and SATs. Students who struggle in any course at Malverne receive academic assistance beyond the school day. In addition to regularly scheduled extra help sessions, the school conducts an after-school Homework Center available to students between 3-4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The center gives students access to subject-specific teachers, computers, and peer tutors.

Socio-emotional supports are in place as well, with mentoring programs that assign teachers to specific students. In addition to motivating and supporting, these mentors design academic plans to enable success. Weekly meetings are conducted to ensure students stay on track. Athletes can also find peer tutors and mentors available through their Athletes Assisting Athletes program.

Malverne takes a proactive approach to meeting the needs of at-risks students. The June before eighth graders enter high school, a plan is put in place for any student deemed at-risk. A summer program is then designed to keep them involved in school and to help them transition into the high school. Students participate in everything from strength and conditioning, to discussing current events, to volunteering at a local soup kitchen. They also have the opportunity to meet important personnel who will advocate and support them in the high school. Students are then either assigned a peer or adult mentor, and (in some cases) a Reconnecting Youth class designed to assist students in becoming more effective learners, increasing their self-awareness, setting goals, and discussing how decisions made outside of school impact their success.

Nearly 10 percent of Malverne High students enter at different grade levels during the school year, which is a level of student mobility with some potential to create disruptions. Understanding that new entrants can often have difficulty adjusting to their new high school, the school provides a welcoming group that introduces students to current juniors and seniors, who encourage membership in clubs, sports, and activities, and who provide basic knowledge about the school. These new students are also assigned mentors to help with their transition.

Identifying obstacles and providing the necessary supports for teachers and students, to overcome those obstacles, is at the heart of the school’s success. Malverne also partners with local colleges to provide students with enrichment in math and science through Adelphi University’s Saturday STEP program. During the summer months, English language learners continue learning, thanks to a partnership developed with Hofstra University.

Dedication of staff and support of a caring community make Malverne High School a school dedicated to opportunity for all, and this was accomplished by design.

“The success we are experiencing today did not happen overnight, but through a conscious effort by all stakeholders,” said Superintendent James Hunderfund. “We have more students taking college-level courses and succeeding than ever before. It is about raising the bar, believing in their potential, and not accepting failure.”

For these reasons and more, we believe that Malverne deserves gold recognition as a School of Opportunity.

You may also be interested in the first post in this series:

How one school created a healthy environment for students and teachers

For first time, minority students are majority in U.S. public schools