P.S. 223 Lyndon B. Johnson
QUEENS NY 11434 Map
P.S. 223 Lyndon B. Johnson
SEPTEMBER 2010 UPDATE: There is no longer a Gifted and Talented Program at the school. As of the fall of 2006, Susan Weinick is no longer the school's principal. The new principal is Deborah Otto.
DECEMBER 2004 REVIEW: When Susan Weinick became principal of PS 223, the school seemed beyond hope. It was fall 2000, and most teachers were uncertified and without basic supplies like crayons and pencils. Student test scores were very poor, and the police frequently visited the school to handle severe discipline problem. "We had a 15-year-old 5th grader who was reading on a 2nd grade level," recalled Barbara Gedacht, who became assistant principal at the same time Weinick joined. But like the butterflies science students at the school have raised from caterpillars since that time, PS 223 has undergone a great transformation. Quality of instruction has increased tremendously, supplies are now abundant, and student academic performance, while still low, is rising.
During her first year, Weinick let go several uncertified teachers, some of whom, Gedacht said, had simply "given up" on teaching. Since then, the principal has replaced them with certified instructors. The school also started a gifted and talented program with classes in kindergarten through 2nd grade; in fall 2005, a 3rd grade will be added. Student behavior seems to have improved immensely, with the possible exception of the lunchroom, where we heard an aide yelling at children who were acting out.
In spring 2001, PS 223 was deemed a "corrective active" school by New York State, meaning that test scores had to improve, and they have been. A year later, it received "School in Need of Improvement" status and began receiving yearly $161,000 federal Comprehensive School Reform grants. Weinick used the money to buy books and much-needed supplies. She also purchased the Core Knowledge Curriculum, a program founded by the University of Virginia professor of English emeritus, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., and based on his idea of "cultural literacy" that there are key ideas and information that any well-educated American should know. Social studies is built into the curriculum. Children now make paper teepees and foam igloos while studying nomadic peoples, and build levers and ramps while learning about simple machines.
Children in kindergarten through 2nd grade participate in the Voyager Program, a more scripted version of the city's mandated approach to teaching reading and writing. Voyager has pupils reading together from the same text more, instead of reading independently from different books.
What makes consistency and continued improvement a challenge is the school's transient population. At least 45 children in the 2004-2005 school year came from the nearby Carlton House and other homeless shelters. Each September, children from the shelters enroll. Some finish the year, but don't return the following fall; some vanish mid-year.
English as a Second Language: About 20 students mostly Hispanic, Haitian, and Chinese are served by a part-time ESL teacher who works with them outside of the classroom.
Special education: Three of the school's nine special education classes at the pre-kindergarten, 4th, and 5th grade levels are "inclusive," placing general education students and children with special needs in the same classroom. The other six are "self-contained," that is, only for children with special needs. Grades kindergarten through 5th each have one self-contained class. Weinick, who has been a special education specialist for 18 years, was an assistant principal for District 75, which administers the citywide public special education programs for children with severe disabilities.
PS 223 is a barrier-free school that serves a large number of children with physical disabilities. After being evaluated, students are assigned IEPs (Individual Education Programs) and may work, depending on their needs, with occupational therapists, physical therapists, or other specialists. These children receive therapy in recreation rooms filled with mats and sports equipment. The school also staffs a part-time hearing specialist and full-time speech therapists.
A full-time, in-house clinic run by Jamaica Hospital is available to all students and serves the school's large group of children suffering from asthma.
After school: Third, 4th, and 5th graders who have been recommended by teachers for "academic intervention" (extra help) receive it on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The same children can participate afterward in the school's "Safe Space" program of sports activities in the gym. Each year students take part in a school musical. (John E. Thomas, December 2004)