Long Island is known for its schools, but here's one that should be known much more. It's Barry Tech-the Joseph M. Barry Career and Technical Education Center in Westbury.

I visited there recently, and my reaction was: WOW!

Enter the building on Prospect Avenue, and the thought that hits you is, this is how a school ought to feel. The energy, the enthusiasm, the purpose were palpable. Step inside the classrooms and witness the intensity and the enjoyment. Where is this coming from?

It's from students who have discovered learning that matches their interests and aspirations-that challenges them where they live.

Barry Tech offers a menu of traditional and non-traditional programs, including technical and career-oriented programs in fields that range from aviation, computer networking, and construction electricity to graphic design, video production, and culinary arts.

The school, part of the Nassau BOCES system, works like a magnet school, drawing students from 41 participating districts. The 1,335 juniors and seniors come from all academic levels as well as all backgrounds. In fact, the coming together of students from different places and races and perspectives, united around a shared interest--all too rare in Long Island's segregated schools--contributes to the upbeat atmosphere.

Programs include a strong academic component, emphasizing math and literacy instruction with college-readiness rigor. The secret to success: teaching academic content in the context of the students' chosen interests. It works. Barry Tech boasts a graduation rate of 91.5%--that's 4% higher than the county's average.

The technical and career curriculum is equally rigorous, thanks to Barry's affiliations with top businesses, which keep the curriculum up to the latest industry standards. Students are also encouraged to compete in their fields. Barry has had six national SkillsUSA champions in the past four years. And this year a Barry Auto Tech student won a $5,000 scholarship from BMW.

The results can be seen in students who are confident and self-directed. And alumni who are breadwinners for their families, as well as assets to the region, with the 21st century skills our economy needs: in technology, healthcare, transportation, and more.

Barry Tech makes a great antidote to much of the gloom and doom we hear about today's schools. And offers a lesson on how to think more productively about education.
We know different kids have different needs. What if they all had the opportunity to find the path that worked for them?

Specialized high schools can improve opportunities for thousands of kids, whether their passion is science or math, music or dance, or taking apart and rebuilding an engine.

Regional schools also offer a stairway to success for kids in Long Island's failing schools. These are schools--almost exclusively in economically and racially segregated communities--where kids' needs overwhelm scarce resources. Here the odds are stacked against success, blighting young people's dreams, offending our sense of fairness, and wasting our most precious resource.

Regional high schools alone won't solve the problem, but they can make a big difference. Just ask a Barry Tech grad.