NYC’s other great elementary schools

A parent brings her daughter to school. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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The city's elementary-school application process begins today, with parents now able to apply for kindergarten programs online (for the first time) and over the phone in over 150 languages, and lasts until mid-February.

As usual, the list of the city's most in-demand elementary schools includes standbys like P.S. 321 and P.S. 10 in Park Slope, P.S. 6 and 290 on the Upper East Side, 234 in Tribeca, 87 on the Upper West Side, 29 in Cobble Hill, 372 in Gowanus, among others.

But there are also up-and-coming elementary schools that are less widely known (and therefore, in many cases, less insanely difficult to get into), but which nevertheless merit mention among the city's best.

To identify some of those schools, Capital surveyed a group of experts and schools-watchers including Clara Hemphill, the founding editor of Inside Schools; Robin Aronow, a public school admissions adviser; Deborah Kolben, who runs the parenting website Kveller; Dorothy Siegel, a special education expert; Ernest Logan, president of the city principals' union, the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators; Eileen Shannon, the director of the popular Open House preschool in Brooklyn; and public school parents from the blog UrbanBaby.

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In addition to their feedback, this list (which is by no means comprehesive, given the high number of underappreciated elementary schools in the city quietly doing excellent work, or scientific) takes into account the Department of Education's controversial A-F grades for each school and the department's public learning environment surveys.

 

BROOKLYN

P.S. 295 in Windsor Terrace, District 15

The new principal, Linda Mazza, is well-liked by the community, and makes a point of dedicating little time to test prep, making this school a popular choice for parents uneasy with heavy emphasis on standardized tests. There's a strong focus on the arts; all students take some kind of music instruction and write their own plays. The school is predominantly Hispanic and white, and special education students make up about 20 percent of the school's population. From a parent on UrbanBaby: “excellent school, great teachers, very active PTA, we couldn’t be happier with the school, a real find.”

D.O.E. progress report grade: A

P.S. 189 in East New York, District 17  Ernie Logan praised the school's diverse population of black, Carribean-American and Hispanic students, and gave a nod to the "great principal," Berthe Faustin. The school has dual Haitian Creole and Spanish language programs and a strong after-school program, with a focus on cultural programs like Haitian Cultural Exchange. Saturday school available for students who need additional instruction or test prep. 90 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Each class has the same teacher for two years for continuity.

D.O.E. progress report grade: C

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in Downtown Brooklyn, District 13

"Just added kindergarten in addition to its established middle school,” says Hemphill. Recently took flak for banning hugging in the hallways between classes. Rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum offered in upper grades. Brooklyn Prospect is one of the city’s few diverse charters, with a 38 percent white, 33 percent Hispanic, 19 percent black population.

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

P.S. 32 in Carroll Gardens, District 15 According Eileen Shannon, director of Open House preschool in Cobble Hill: “They have a diverse population with a high level of parent involvement. The staff seems very enthusiastic and committed." Shannon also says the school has a good gifted and talented program and a good special education program for children on the autism spectrum. Over half of the school's population is eligible for free lunch, and the school is roughly a third white, a third Hispanic, and a third black. 32 has very small classes, some with only 12 students, and most classrooms have two teachers. Seen as an emerging alternative to P.S. 58 and 29 in the area.

D.O.E. progress report grade:C


P.S. 21 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, District 16 
Logan said some of the city's best educators started their careers teaching at 21. "A lot of people are trying to get their kids in here," Logan said. InsideSchoolscalls it a "community institution," with traditional instruction. Students consistently perform well on standardized tests. The school is under-enrolled, and spots are available for out-of-zone students. 100 percent of the student population, which is 92 percent black, is eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, District 13 focus on professional development, making the school competitive with Brooklyn standbys P.S. 321 or the Brooklyn New School. Inside Schools calls it a "school on the move" that is attracting more and more Prospect Heights families. There is generally some room for out-of-zone students in the lower grades, with more space opening up in the upper grades.

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

P.S. 705 in Crown Heights, District 17

Where Crown Heights gentrifiers are beginning to send their children; progressive school with focus on art and music. Class size is relatively small, with classes under 25 students. There’s a dual Spanish-English program with some Spanish-speakers from outside the zone.

D.O.E. progress report grade: N/A

P.S. 133 in Park Slope,  District 13

Hemphill says the school "is dedicated to racial and ethnic integration in its student body." Accepts students from both District 15 and District 13, earmarking 30 percent of its kindergarten seats for children from District 13, and another third for English Language Learners and students who qualify for free lunch. It has dual French and Spanish language programs. It's also under-enrolled this year.

D.O.E. progress report grade: C

P.S. 682 in Bensonhurst, District 20

“I believe this school has a fantastic future ... this school is a dream for me and my kids,” said one parent on UrbanBaby of 682, founded in 2009 and officially called the Academy of Talented Scholars. Students pick some of their non-academic classes, with choices reminiscent of Brooklyn's progressive private schools, including “top chefs” and “world explorers.” Class size, particularly non-academic classes, are small, with fewer than 12 students per class.

D.O.E. progress report grade: A

 

Community Roots Charter School in Clinton Hill, District 13

Shannon says it’s “very popular” with Brooklyn parents. “It’s an arts school that everyone likes,” says Debbie Kolben. Has a reputation of being less strict, more academically progressive and more diverse than the city’s other charters. Free after-school until 6 p.m. starting in 1st grade. Each grade has two classes, with two teachers, one of whom is trained in special ed. Unlike other, larger charter networks, students are only grouped by ability for reading, not general academic ability.

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

P.S. 15 in Red Hook, District 15  Progressive education at a neighborhood school in the Red Hook housing projects. Small class size. Particular emphasis on math instruction and special education. The student population is mostly Hispanic and Logan says the principal, Peggy Wyns-Madison, is doubling down on the school's instruction for English Language Learners. Has bounced back after being closed after Sandy.

D.O.E. progress report grade: N/A

BRONX

P.S. 83 in Morris Park, District 11  Logan said 83 is well-known as a school that people "try to wiggle their kids into." He added that 83 has had a long line of good principals plucked from the community. InsideSchools reports that the majority of teachers have been in the system for at least a decade, and that the school has a small community feel. Was just awarded a $100,000 community school grant from the state. 

 

P.S. 69 Journey Prep School in Soundview, District 8  Logan said the school is somewhat off the beaten path, but has a reputation for excellence and has received an 'A' rating from the D.O.E. for several years. Strong emphasis on writing, beginning in kindergarten, with a focus on nonfiction reading. School offers peer mediation and counseling.

D.O.E. progress report grade: A

Mount Eden Children's Academy in Tremont, District 9  Mount Eden is part of a new $100 million complex built by New Settlement Apartments. Parents are giving the school early favorable reviews, and the facilities are excellent, with a dance studio, swimming pool, and garden. A much-needed new school in the South Bronx's District 9, which has been the state's lowest-achieving district for years.

D.O.E. progress report grade: N/A

MANHATTAN

P.S. 151 on the Upper East Side, District 2

Emerging as an alternative to Upper East Side favorites P.S. 6 and P.S. 290. One parent on UrbanBaby called it a "great neighborhood school." The school has a racially and socioeconomically diverse population considering its Upper East Side location. Teachers are addressed by their first names. Strong focus on community, with students taking music and art classes at the nearby 92nd Street Y and sports offered at Asphalt Green.

D.O.E. progress report grade:C

P.S. 513 in Washington Heights, District 6

Hemphill said 513, also known as the Castle Bridge School, is a good alternative to other, better-known schools in the area. Focus on progressive education, with a dual English-Spanish language program. Students stay in the same classroom with the same teacher for two years. Average class size, highly involved parent community. Inclusion model for special education students. 

D.O.E. progress report grade: N/A

P.S. 166 on the Upper West Side, District 3

Robin Aronow says families she works with are "beginning to consider the school, not just for its gifted and talented program, but also for its general education program." Emerging as an alternative to Upper West Side stand-by schools PS 87 and 199. From a parent on UrbanBaby: "166 is great. We have an involved PTA and we're bridging gifted+talented and general ed." School has a strong parent organization and the new principal, Deborah Mastriano, has doubled down on professional development and increasing arts instruction. Students from out of zone will have a hard time being accepted into the general education program.

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

P.S. 180 in Harlem, District 3

Aronow says the school is new on her radar. “It’s in a gentrifying neighborhood, has strong leadership, and more parents are considering it,” she says, despite relatively low test scores, particularly in reading. Hemphill says the school has “a terrific principal.” School includes grades pre-K to 8, but class sizes, particularly in the lower grades, are kept small, at about 20 students per class. 

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

 

QUEENS

P.S. 186 in Bellerose, District 26

Calls itself “the little school with a big heart.” Dorothy Siegel says the school has children from “literally dozens of different countries around the world,” and says she thinks it's one of “the best schools in the city, if not the state.” Inside Schools says 186 "feels like a suburban school" with its small size. The school has an inclusive model for general education and special education students. Small class size. 

D.O.E. progress report grade: A

P.S. 108 in South Ozone Park, District 27 High East and South Asian student populations, with 86 percent of the student body eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Logan described 108 as a "very welcoming place" where over 200 languages are spoken and the teachers reflect the diversity of their students. InsideSchools says 108 has a strong emphasis on parent engagement, with a monthly newsletter to parents about what their children are working on, and a focus on literacy. 

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

STATEN ISLAND

P.S. 9 in North Shore, District 31

Siegel says, “the principal is a product of District 15’s best schools. I’m very impressed with the overall thrust of education there, which is based on a more progressive model than is typical.” It’s a non-zoned school, meaning anyone who lives in Staten Island can apply. Strong focus on the arts. The new principal, Deanna Marco, comes from P.S. 295, another one of our up-and-comers, where she focused on introducing an arts curriculum. The school is currently only has a pre-K and kindergarten, but will add one grade per year up to 5th grade.  

D.O.E. progress report grade: B

 

 

Photos: Jeremy Gordon, Inside Schools, Holly Wiesner Olivieri