Noteworthy special education: high schools

We picked a few schools that have long history of success with special needs students. We also highlight new schools that have a promising approach, even if they are too new to have solid results. Not every school works for every child, and finding a good high school for students with disabilities is particularly tough. To complicate matters, we weren’t able to get good data on high school students with special needs, so our selections rely more on our observations than on hard numbers.

For other options for high school grades, see our elementary school entry for the Renaissance Charter School. Also, see our middle school entries for East Side Community High School, Quest to Learn, School of the Future, Brooklyn Studio School, Brooklyn School of Collaborative Studies, and Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science—which all serve high school as well as middle school students.


Millennium High School (Financial district): Millennium offers a challenging college-prep curriculum to children with special needs. About 10 percent of the students receive special education services and students may be assigned to team-teaching classes with two teachers or may meet regularly in a small group with a teacher. A few severely disabled children from District 75 are integrated into regular classes.

NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies (Chelsea): The school is a pioneer in the inclusion model of special education, enrolling students with special needs who, like the rest of students here, have strong academic abilities. According to the Department of Education, special ed students in the school have registered exceptional gains. It has collaborative team teaching but no self-contained special ed classes.

City-As-School (Chelsea): City-As-School has provided a non-traditional academic haven for struggling students since 1972. It welcomes students who lost their way when they lost their homes, high-achieving kids who got off-track and teens who dropped out from boredom or because they were bullied one too many times for the way they looked. All students are integrated into mainstream classes, including those who were previously assigned to self-contained classrooms or are coming from institutions.

• Food and Finance (Midtown West): At this vocational school, there are team-taught academic and cooking classes. Like all students, those with special needs may take AP courses and get real-world food service experience with off-campus internships their senior year. The school graduates an impressive amount of students with special needs.  

Central Park East High School (East Harlem): The school is committed to integrating students with special needs in general education classes, with teachers working to support children who struggle while challenging those who are more able. There are collaborative team-teaching classes for all grades and all subjects. In addition, at-risk students are assigned a "mentor teacher" who makes sure they receive all the services to which they are entitled. There are no self-contained classes.

Urban Assembly New York Harbor School (Governor's Island): The school offers a wide range of special education services. On a 2010 visit, Insideschools observed a small, self-contained class in which students were getting one-on-one attention from teachers trained in the Orton-Gillingham methods to improve reading skills. The school also offers counseling, speech therapy and occupational therapy.


High School of Telecommunications (Sunset Park); Teachers have high standards for special education pupils. More than 200 students receive services including physical and occupational therapy, speech, counseling, team teaching and self-contained classes. The team-teaching classes we visited had energetic teachers and engaged students.

Transit Tech Career and Technical Education High School (East New York): This vocational schools offers self-contained and team teaching classes and resource rooms from 15 special ed teachers. All shop areas are open to special ed students. The school tries to mix special education and general education kids in the small groups that are the basis of many shop classes and feels it has had some success with that. (The graduation rate for special ed students, though, remains fairly low.)


High School for Arts and Business (Corona): This school offers a number of team teaching classes and special ed classes for English language learners but no self-contained classes. A high percentage of students with IEPs receive Regents diplomas.

Queens High School of Teaching (Bellerose): This school has taken inclusion seriously since it opened in 2003. It embraces not only its own students but also severely disabled students in a District 75 school that shares the building. Integrating everyone to the greatest extent possible, school administrators believe, benefits all students -- not just those with disabilities.

The Bronx

Belmont Prep (Fordham): Principal Stephen Gumbs, who attended an Ivy League college despite having a math-disability, believes that special needs students can excel academically He points out that a Belmont Prep valedictorian one year had dyslexia. Students in self-contained classes change rooms for each subject and have teachers who are licensed in both their subject matter and in special education. The school offers special education teacher support services (SETSS) and self-contained classes but does not offer collaborative team teaching.

Editors' note: Insideschools used several criteria to compile these lists of noteworthy schools. We consulted with experts who offered their thoughts on outstanding programs. We relied on what we saw in our visits to schools. And we looked at the numbers: percent of students with IEPs, their test scores and graduation rates. We looked for principals who have a commitment to addressing the needs of all students, notably those with disabilities, and for a depth of services, programs for the hearing-impaired, say, or bilingual classes.

In general, the schools we selected had a substantial percentage of students with special needs, achievement figures at or above the city average for special education programs, and good word of mouth. Not all schools, though, meet all criteria. In addition, we also sought out schools that meet needs other schools neglect. For example, the Lab School and Millennium take high achieving children with special needs that other screened schools shun.

Insideschools' list of notable special education programs does not include every good program in the city. We welcome suggestions for other good programs (tweet @insideschools or email [email protected]). And the list alone cannot tell you whether the school is right for your child. For that, you will need to visit the school yourself and ask questions.