Columbia Secondary School

Grades: 6-12
Staff Pick

Our Insights

What’s Special

Free Columbia University classes; courses in engineering and philosophy

The Downside

Far more applicants than seats

Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering (CSS) is an academically challenging and ethnically diverse school founded with the backing of Columbia University. Qualified high school juniors and seniors may take courses at Columbia University for free.

Students in all grades study engineering and philosophy, which offer the opportunity for imaginative projects as well as a solid academic foundation for college, says Principal Miriam Nightengale.

In an engineering project, students built a solar-powered chicken coop in a vacant lot a few blocks from the school. The design problem they solved: how to keep the water used to feed the chickens from freezing in the winter. In philosophy, they read Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes; they ponder ethical questions and learn how to construct a logical argument.

Our graduates tell us these are the most useful classes when they get to college, says Nightengale, who taught math at Brooklyn Tech and was the principal of the High School for Law, Advocacy and Community Justice before arriving at CSS.

Most students start in the 6th grade and stay through 12th. Sixth-graders study Latin; 7th-graders begin Spanish. By the end of middle school, students complete high school-level Regents classes in earth science, U.S. history and algebra, which puts them on track to tackle lots of college-level coursework before graduation.

Instruction in middle school blends traditional and progressive teaching methods. Math drills and grammar instruction help shore up basic skills, but there's also a lot of hands-on learning and inventive projects. 

For example, students incorporated Fibonnaci numbers—a sequence of numbers named after the 13th century Italian mathematician—into art projects depicting spirals in nature. Math becomes not just a tool for problem-solving, but an aesthetically pleasing discipline.

 

Juniors and seniors may take courses at Columbia University tailored to their skills and interests. Course options, which vary by semester, have included calculus, linear algebra, psychology, sociology, computer science, chemistry, and a history class on the Roman Empire. Students may also take Advanced Placement courses in biology, English, physics and Spanish.

Elective classes and extracurricular activities are varied but low on sports; they include biking, architecture, musical theater, organic gardening, neuroscience, student newspaper and underwater robotics.

The school has an unusually well-staffed college office, with two full-time counselors and one part-time counselor. Graduates have been admitted top-notch private colleges and universities including Columbia, New York University, Yale, MIT, and Rice; large public universities including UCLA, University of Michigan and SUNY schools; and smaller liberal arts colleges such as Middlebury, St. Olafs, Goucher and Clark.

The school occupies the top three floors of a five-story elementary school building, which also houses KIPP STAR Charter Middle School and PS 125. The building is designed for a younger population, so space is a little cramped and the hallways are narrow, although high school students do have lockers. CSS shares the gymnasiums, cafeteria, auditorium, indoor pool and outdoor yard with other schools in the building. Kids wear a uniform of jeans and polo shirts (light blue in middle, dark blue in high school).

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has only a few children with special needs. It has Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) and self-contained classes in select grades, varying from year to year.

ADMISSIONS: The middle school is open to children who live or attend public school north of 96th Street in Manhattan. Most successful candidates score a 4 on at least one of the 4th-grade state exams in math and English. Select applicants are invited to take an entrance exam in February. The principal ranks applicants in a way to ensure a balance of children from districts 3, 4, 5 and 6. See the schools website for details.

The high school is open to students citywide who have grades of at least 90 in core subjects. Select applicants are interviewed and asked to write an essay. There are more than 1,300 applicants for 100 seats in 6th grade and more than 2,000 applicants for 20 seats in 9th grade. (Laura Zingmond, February 2014; Clara Hemphill, May 2017)

 

School Stats

Academics

School
Citywide
How many students graduate in 4 years?
 
91%
Average daily attendance
 
94%
How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
 
18%
From the 2019-20 School Quality Guide and 2019-20 NYC School Survey

Students

700
Number of students
631 Citywide Average

Race/Ethnicity


School
Citywide
Low-income students
 
39%
Students with disabilities
 
18%
Multilingual learners
 
1%
From the 2020-21 Demographic Snapshot

Safety & Vibe

School
Citywide
How many students were suspended?
 
0%
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
 
81%
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
 
91%
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
 
33%
From the 2019-20 NYC School Survey and 2019-20 NY State Report Card

Faculty & Staff

School
Citywide
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
 
89%
8.9
Years of principal experience at this school
7 Citywide Average
349
Number of students for each guidance counselor or social worker
226 Citywide Average

Teachers’ Race/Ethnicity


How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
 
83%
Are teachers effective?
From the 2019-20 NYC School Survey, 2019-20 School Quality Guide, 2019-20 Report on School-Based Staff Demographics, 2019-20 NY State Report Card, 2021 Guidance Counselor Report and this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Advanced Courses

Which students have access to advanced courses at this school? Learn more

Calculus

 
21%

Computer Science

 
3%

Physics

Not offered in 2019-20

Advanced Foreign Language

 
47%

AP/IB Arts, English, History or Social Science

 
36%

AP/IB Math or Science

 
42%

Music

 
57%
From unpublished, anonymized data from the class of 2019-20 provided by the New York State Education Department, brought to you by

College Readiness

School
Citywide
How many students graduate with test scores high enough to enroll at CUNY without remedial help?
 
91%
How many students take a college-level course or earn a professional certificate?
 
91%
From the 2019-20 School Quality Guide
How many students filled out a FAFSA form by the end of their senior year?
 
87%
From the 2020-21 FAFSA data released by Federal Student Aid, brought you by From unpublished, anonymized student-level data for the class of 2011-12 provided by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) in coordination with the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), brought to you by
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Programs & Admissions

From the 2021 High School Directory

Columbia Secondary School

Admissions Method: Screened

Offerings

From the 2021 High School Directory

Language Courses

French, Greek, Korean, Spanish

Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP English Language and Composition, AP Computer Science Principles, AP Calculus AB, AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Chemistry, AP Biology

Boys PSAL teams

Basketball, Rugby, Soccer

Girls PSAL teams

Basketball, Cross Country, Rugby, Soccer, Volleyball

Read about admissions, academics, and more at this school on NYCDOE’s MySchools

NYC Department of Education: MySchools

Contact & Location

Location

425 West 123rd Street
Manhattan NY 10027

Trains: 1 Line to 116th St-Columbia University; A Line, C Line, B Line, D Line to 125th St

Buses: Bx15, M10, M100, M101, M104, M11, M116, M2, M3, M4, M5, M60-SBS, M7


Contact

Principal: Miriam Nightengale

Parent Coordinator: Andi Vayda

Website

Other Details

Shared campus? Yes

This school shares its building with PS 125 and KIPP STAR Charter Middle School

Uniforms required? No
Metal detectors? No

Comments

  • Is this your school? Please post any news, updates, events, changes, or other information!
  • We welcome questions, open discussions, and disagreements but comments with personal attacks, rude language, or those with seemingly malicious intent will be deleted.
  • Very long comments, those that contain links, or repeat comments may be blocked by our spam filter.
  • Problems? email us at contact@insideschools.org.
  • Users must comply with our Terms of Use.

×