When a parent is making the choice about a school of any sort, the first thing to consider is quality of the staff and their genuine caring for the students,” says Eric D. Katz, head counselor at the Newburgh Free Academy’s main campus. “The staff’s willingness to partner with the students, parents, and community is vital, and I think that’s an area where NFA excels,” he adds.
Newburgh Free Academy dates back to 1799 — it was one of the first public schools in New York State. “There’s tremendous value in a public school education,” adds Katz, who coauthored the book High School’s Not Forever with Jane Bluestein; it’s chock-full of no-nonsense advice on topics like friendship, cliques, sexuality, dating, and responsibilities based on the personal experiences and stories of more than 4,000 students around the nation.
“One of our strengths here is that NFA has a diverse student body, and a diversity of what we can offer students. It’s not only our academic focus; we reach out to the community in a multitude of ways — with things like record-setting blood drives, and students working with young children or visiting local nursing homes. We’re involved with our students, both in terms of their school days and extracurricular, too,” says Katz.
With students in grades nine to 12 on two campuses in the City of Newburgh, NFA is one of just a handful of comprehensive high schools in New York State, says Katz: “That means we offer all our vocational- and occupational-ed courses right here, in-house, instead of sending the students out to BOCES.” Those courses include training in culinary arts, automotive, construction, electronics, and other hands-on fields.
The bottom line for finding a good school? “It’s the quality of education and the quality of involvement of the staff,” Katz says. “Otherwise a school is just a building. Some buildings may be prettier than others, but it’s the quality and level of care from the people in the building that makes the difference. Our students are not just numbers to us.”