interesting programs in district 17

PS 705 and Exceed Charter SchoolI had the pleasure of touring two very interesting new programs in District 17 this month.

New American Academy is an unzoned program near Lincoln Terrace Park. They are taking kids by lottery and they have seats available. It is unlike any school that you will see. For one thing the physical plant is modern and the classrooms are very, very large and bright with bathrooms in each classroom. This serves the model very well because you will find the whole kindergarten (currently about 50 students) in one classroom with 3 teachers. One of the teachers is a master teacher and the others are a carefully picked team with various skills and range of experience. The staff development and team planning is central to what makes this school special. The student : teacher ratio in the classroom is 15 : 1 - unheard of anywhere in local public schools. They are able to make this cost effective because with smaller number of students to tend to and with the support of their team, the teachers are able to wear the hats that are often worn by separate specialists in other schools. Among a team of teachers who bring many skills and talents to the table, is a special needs teacher and they facilitate communication with their parents, without the need for a parent coordinator. They don't currently have special talent teachers, because they feel that the talents that the individual teachers are bringing to the table is strong enough.

I loved the idea of respect and mentoring among the staff (who are also paid very well for the their expertise), but I was curious what a classroom of 50 to 60 students would look like. As I said, the classrooms are very large rooms (actually duplexes) and there is plenty of area for the several teachers to divide the students into manageable groups or to address them together. The kids (even the young kindergarteners) were self regulating beautifully, engaged and helping each other. There was evidence of the project based learning everywhere. They call themselves "the relationship school" because of the special bond and teamwork of the teachers, the collaboration demonstrated by the students and the vital role played by the parents who have open access to the school. I highly recommend a tour!

PS 705, Brooklyn Arts and Science School is a new program in Prospect Heights. It is housed in the former PS 22, a post modern, gold brick building off Classon Ave. PS 22 is being phased out with a 4th and 5th grade and PS 705 with their new principal, Sandra Soto and hand picked staff is bringing a new approach to the neighborhood. Ms. Soto who is a former Macy's executive before entering teaching (with experience as an early childhood teacher, staff developer, and literacy coach in a school with a long standing dual language program) felt that her own children benefited from wide and deep experiences mastering skills that opened doors for them at middle and high school. She wanted to make sure that her students all had the chance to find their passion and self confidence through a rich variety of enrichments. The growing school has a full time dance teacher, music teacher (with keyboards), fencing, chess and 'Studio in a School'. Next year she is hoping to add a gym teacher and a science cluster. There is also a Dual Language Spanish classroom. Mondays are enrichment days which allows extensive staff development and grade wide collaboration for teachers. Habits of Mind is also a central to school's approach of creative problem solving, perseverance, self respect and collaboration. I love Ms. Soto and her vision. It is a very unusual and awesome position for a principal to be able to pick her staff of like minded educators from scratch. Her first requirement was that her teachers have a thrist to constantly improve their skills and she found strong educators from both in and outside of the current community.

At full capacity the school will grow to about 420 students and is sharing the building with Exceed Charter which has a similar number of children in the building.

Both schools have been attracting the attention of families from neighborhoods all over District 17 and beyond and they are happy to welcome all comers. Check with the school to find out how many prek seats that they may have available for 2013-14.