The Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies
AUGUST 2016 UPDATE: In 2016, the Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies was merged with another school in the building, formerly known as IS 286 Renaissance Leadership Academy. The name of the newly formed school is Urban Assembly Academy for Future Leaders, IS 286.
SEPTEMBER 2012 REVIEW: The Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies, opened in 2009, had a rocky first few years but Jeffrey Chetirko, who became principal in 2012, is optimistic that a back-to-fundamentals approach is the key to a brighter future and better results.
Electives based on new technologies have been temporarily set aside while the school focuses on reading, writing, math and other core subjects in the hopes of boosting very low test scores. On our visit, Chetirko (pronounced shuh-TURK-oh), could boast that virtually all students were wearing the school uniform (blue polo shirt with school logo, plus black pants or skirt) whereas the previous year most had brazenly refused to do so. [In 2015 Principal Jeff Chetirko left the school in 2015 to lead the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School. He was replaced by Roxanne Brown, a special education and reading teacher at the school.]
New Tech (as it’s known) occupies the second and third floors on the isolated north wing of what once was IS 172. (The J-shaped brick building was originally Manhattanville Middle School but is now better known as the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Education Complex.) New Tech shares the campus with Renaissance Leadership Academy (a middle school also known as IS 286), the Academy for Social Action (serving grades 6-12), the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts (grades 9-12) and Success Academy Charter School Northwest, a middle school. The schools share an auditorium, basement lunchroom, gyms and a small outdoor recess area (carved out of what used to be a faculty parking lot), but students at different schools rarely mingle during school hours.
The campus sits in the shadows of three 20-story public housing towers known as Manhattanville Houses, and surveys show students often don’t feel safe in the neighborhood around the campus — even though a police precinct is two blocks away. Students and visitors must pass through metal detectors at the main entrance, and a handful of uniformed guards patrol the halls.
New Tech is one of 21 schools in New York City affiliated the Urban Assembly, a nonprofit foundation devoted to helping at-risk urban students. Chetirko urges teachers to spend less time standing in front of the class talking, and more time helping students as they interact in small groups to help each other understand the material. Visitors might be surprised at the noise level in many classrooms, as students clumped in small groups discuss their lessons (and other topics). But Chetirko is confident the new philosophy will work, and said it is “giving ownership of students’ education back to the students.”
In 2012, the incoming 6th-grade class numbered about 15 students, a fact Chetirko blamed on “a lack of recruitment,” although the school’s troubled reputation certainly was a factor. The founding principal, Travis Brown, and about two-thirds of the school’s 22-member staff went elsewhere in the spring of 2012, and many new teachers were recruited from the NYC Teaching Fellows program. Reading teacher Roxanne Brown, one of New Tech’s few experienced faculty members, said she stayed through what was a “rough transition” because she felt Chetirko “came in with a sincere heart,” and she wanted to give the administration’s new vision a chance.
“In terms of changing culture, this is just the beginning,” Brown said. “We’re on the right path.”
After-school: In time, Chetirko hopes to bring a technology focus back to the school, and it will likely start with after-school programs in robotics and other areas. A basketball team and step-dance club were being formed when we visited. After-school homework help is available three days a week through a partnership with ING Direct.
Special education: New Tech has a high number of students with special needs. The school features self-contained classes, ICT classes (two-teacher classes in which students with special needs are mixed with students from the general population) and a range of special support services known as SETSS that offer extra help outside of the classroom.
Admissions: New Tech has unscreened admissions and is open to students in District 5. Chetirko said he welcomes students who want to transfer from other schools. (Skip Card, September 2012; principal information updated by Ella Colley, October 2015)