P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen
BRONX NY 10471 Map
P.S. 81 Robert J. Christen
In a stately 1925 Georgian structure, in the northernmost corner of Riverdale, PS 81 is a popular choice for families. It is a school community that values citizenship and the tone is respectful from the top down. The principal meets personally with every incoming kindergarten family, and 5th-graders serve as big brothers and sisters to younger students. The school has a unified tone, yet when children stand to recite Shakespeare some speak with Russian, Dominican or Pakistani inflections, a fact this community celebrates.
We observed many warm, well-structured, teacher-led lessons, often at small groupings of tables, especially in the younger grades. The school has a reputation for its attention to children across the academic spectrum and has an accelerated track in each grade. There are no separate music, art or science rooms but there are two full-time art teachers (visual art and music/drama), and the children study dance, visual art, music and drama in a series of arts residencies throughout the grades.
Teachers take part in the hiring process and have a well-organized plan for sharing ideas. Classrooms feel consistent as a result. Many teachers have years of experience but at the time of our visit more than half a dozen were new, including several Manhattan College graduates who had worked as student teachers at PS 81. A young teacher said she feels like a fully contributing member of the staff. "We get heard just as equally," she said.
Children take a daily snack break, and they visit the gym and library at least once a week. The safe, predictable routines throughout the school seem particularly beneficial for calming anxious children. In a happy, well-run kindergarten class, for instance, a teacher put one such child in charge of starting the timer for reading time, and the child took on this role with pride and responsibility.
PS 81's test scores indicate roughly half the students meet or exceed state academic standards—a very respectable showing especially compared to other Bronx schools. Still, city Education Department evaluations of the school cite slightly below-average student progress compared to similar schools.
Principal Anna Kirrane was assistant principal at PS 81 for nine years before taking over in October 2012. She arrives at 6:30 am each day to be available to anyone with concerns, and takes the time to greet parents who drop by. Kirrane attended boarding school in Ireland as a girl, and is of Irish heritage. She urges all parents to "share your rich heritage with your child."
After a year of getting to know children, teachers select 25 to 30 kindergartners for placement in the school's accelerated program, which begins in 1st grade. The make-up of the class is determined by reading levels, as well as "work ethic and ability to move forward," said Kirrane. Students usually work a grade ahead and a child must keep up with the work to remain in these classes.
The school tracks high-performing students, "not to label children but to drive our instruction," Kirrane said. It makes it easier for peers to discuss a story or to give each other feedback on their writing, for example. A parent pointed out that some kids from the two other 5th-grade classes get into the honors program at nearby IS 141, and some from the accelerated classes do not.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Each grade features at least one ICT team-teaching classroom, where students with special needs are taught alongside their peers in general education in rooms featuring at least two teachers. The school has three small "self-contained" classrooms for children with special needs only.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. (Lydie Raschka, May 2016)
At a glance
Number of Students 683
Average Daily Attendance 94%
Safety & vibe
How many teachers say bullying is a problem at school?15% 17% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?96% 86% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
ARE CLASSES BIG?
Number of students in an average kindergarten class23 23 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Number of students in an average fifth grade class27 26 CITYWIDE AVERAGE
DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?98% 84% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?98% 87% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students are chronically absent?17% 22% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam
Percent of 4th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam
Does the school encourage family involvement?
How many parents say they were invited to an event at the school at least 3 times in the last school year?80% 75% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Do parents like the school?
How many parents would recommend this school to other parents?98% 94% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Special ed & ELL
How well does this school serve students with disabilities?
This school offers self-contained classes.
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:20% 8% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:NA 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
This school offers team teaching (ict).
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:14% 19% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:8% 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:NA 17% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:NA 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many parents say students with disabilities are included in all activities?
How many teachers say students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate?
How many parents of students with ieps say this school offers a wide enough variety of services and activities for their children’s needs?