Last year, 1,750 middle schoolers applied for 140 available spots at Northside high school Williamsburg Prep. This isn’t a rare occurrence for the school; each time around, they receive more applications than the year prior. The teachers, students, and faculty attribute the interest to their emphasis on college preparation, their close-knit community, and open dialogue.
Williamsburg Prep began eight years ago, and was first ranked by the city four years later. Principal Mike Shadrick traces the school’s consistently high rankings to the quality of his faculty. “We have a really dedicated staff,” he said. “Our teachers and support staff are committed to the idea that we’re really trying to get as many kids to the next level as possible.”
Shadrick calls Williamsburg Prep a “neighborhood school,” and more than half its freshman class comes from IS 318. It shares the former Harry Van Arsdale High School building with Brooklyn Prep and the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design. “Smaller schools are more manageable,” he said. “Our founding principal was relentless and driven and she hired people that shared those qualities.”
Williamsburg Prep has a 91 percent graduation rate and 98 percent college acceptance rate, according to Community Coordinator Kelly Witkowski, although only around 70 percent actually go. “The biggest factor for most of our kids is not that they are not ready for college, it’s just they are not ready to pay for college,” said Shadrick. “It’s a big challenge our kids have faced.”
To keep up their stellar college acceptance rates, Williamsburg Prep offers Advanced Placement English, U.S. history, Spanish, and calculus classes, as well as SAT prep and tutoring. They also hold one-on-one meetings with parents to assist in the completion of financial aid forms. The walls are lined with college banners and memorabilia to get kids excited for what’s to come. “We have a program here called “I mentor,” where each kid gets paired up with an adult who is their mentor,” said Chris Lajca, a junior. “They help you out with school and college. All the juniors are in it. We meet them once a month and all the kids have smiles on their faces. I’m happy about that.”
The students attend colleges like Cornell, Brandeis, CUNY Hunter, Fairfield, Union, Gettysburg, and SUNY Albany and Buffalo. The school tries to arrange one scholarship each year for a student through the Posse Foundation, which gives full-rides to four-year colleges for kids with outstanding leadership skills. The school’s two Posse recipients from years past have gone on to Middlebury and the University of Wisconsin.
Jason Raymond, the head of the English department and teacher of ninth grade English, said the school’s structure contributes to their outstanding academic record. “This is one of the stronger groups of freshmen I’ve taught and a strong group of freshmen historically at this school. We have a talented team and the teachers here by and large are no exception and are hard working. We want the best for our students. We want to figure out how to have breakthrough results for our kids so that when they go to college they are ready.”
Tenth grader Ricardo Alvarez, who wants to go to New York University and become an orthodontist, said his teachers make going to Williamsburg Prep a positive experience. “There isn’t a teacher in this school I don’t know or who doesn’t know me. We know each other on a friendship level. Most of my teachers normally have free periods and all those free periods I go and get extra help for algebra and trigonometry.”
Alvarez continued, “The teachers really do care about your grades and I learn a lot. There hasn’t been at time where I haven’t been able to get help at all. There is always somebody there. Even if my teacher isn’t available, there is always another math teacher available or an English teacher. The teachers stay extra hours to make sure we get the best education that we can.”