Frank McCourt High School
Graduates First Class

Adrianna McCourt, grandneice of Frank McCourt, who was a member of the first graduating class of McCourt High School in Manhattan.
Adrianna McCourt, grandneice of Frank McCourt, who was a member of the first graduating class of McCourt High School in Manhattan.

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
August / September 2014

Frank McCourt High School first graduating class head to college.

Best known as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt also worked as a New York City public school educator, including 15 years as a teacher of English and creative writing at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan until his retirement in 1987.

It’s fitting then that soon after Frank’s passing on July 19, 2009, plans were put in place for a new communications arts high school to be named in his honor.

In making the announcement in October, 2009, Joel Klein, then chancellor of education, said, “Frank McCourt was a remarkable writer, but I believe he achieved his greatest impact as a New York City public school teacher for 29 years. I’m pleased to announce our intention to honor his legacy through creation of a new public school that will nurture the academic and creative talents of New York City students for generations to come.”

The Frank McCourt High School, opened its doors at 145 West 84th Street, New York, in September, 2010, promising to be a diverse institution that would provide its students the skills to become leaders in their communities. The school’s mission statement reads in part: “Every student will graduate from Frank McCourt High School armed with the curiosity and intellect of a true life-long learner. We are committed to helping our students become engaged citizens and thoughtful civic leaders who can communicate their vision with clarity and eloquence.”

It was an ambitious plan for the multi-cultural high school, but four years later, under the steady guidance of Principal Danielle Salzberg, all of the school’s first graduating class have been accepted to colleges including the University of Pennsylvania, Fordham University and Sarah Lawrence College.

“It’s an astonishing country where they name a high school after a teacher who never went to high  school,” said the author’s brother Malachy McCourt. (Despite not have finished high school, Frank graduated in 1957 from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in English and went on to earn a master’s degree at Brooklyn College.)

Ellen Frey McCourt spoke at the graduation, which took place Thursday, June 26th at the New York Academy of Medicine.  Ellen and Frank married in 1994 and he credited her with being the motivating force behind his memoir.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who was instrumental in making the high school happen, also spoke.

Among the graduating students was Malachy’s granddaughter, and Frank’s grandniece, Adrianna McCourt.

“You can imagine how emotional it was to have a McCourt in the first four-year graduating class,” Ellen said in an email to Irish America.

“Sixty-seven students of varying backgrounds and races all came together in a bright tapestry. Because they were the first class they helped shape the ethos of Frank McCourt High School and went through the inevitable growing pains of charting the course for a brand new school. I think it made this inaugural class tighter, more connected and very motivated to do well.  It was a lovely experience and I have high-hopes for the success of the school and its student body.  Principal Danielle Salzberg deserves a lot of credit.”

Irish American Writers and Artists Inc., presented three of the graduating class with scholarships. The gold award of $2500 went to Kate Nelson, the silver, $2000, to Anastasia Warren and the bronze, $1500, to Sebastian Montjuich. “The Teacher Man would be pleased,” said Mary Pat Kelly Irish American Writers and Artists vice-president.

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