Cynthia Jenkins School
QUEENS NY 11434 Map
Cynthia Jenkins School
UPDATE: The principal at the time of our visit, Deborah King, is no longer at the school. The current principal is Beverly Mitchell.
MARCH 2005 REVIEW: We arrived at PS 37 in time for the Kindness Kids Awards, an event every other month in the auditorium honoring the best-behaved students. Teachers gave speeches about each award winner, while many of those who did not win stirred in their chairs. The ceremony is one of Principal Deborah King's efforts to encourage good behavior at the school. As the principal headed out of her office, she stuffed a handful of "King coins" (disks of gold paper with King's likeness printed on them) into her pocket. "I give these out whenever I see kids doing what they're supposed to," King said. Upper grades are rewarded on a different system, she added.
King's approach to discipline rewarding good behavior does not have universal support, however. A number of teachers we spoke to complained that the administration was reluctant to suspend students for bad behavior. "The problem has been violence students hitting other students and they don't suspend," one teacher said. King replied that she suspends children when necessary, and that every school has a few incidents.
There is some disagreement, as well, about teaching techniques. King says she backs a classroom approach that is "more dialogue, less teacher-directed" in keeping with the citywide curriculum. But a number of teachers we spoke to say they use their own modified classroom approach a combination of the new curriculum's progressive techniques with more formal instruction. Some also complained that the more populated upper grades were more disorderly than they should be, a result, they said, of a lax attitude toward discipline and a curriculum that emphasizes group work and other techniques that give children more control.
Test scores remain below the average of similar schools, a problem that is being addressed, according to King, who had been principal of PS 37 for a dozen years at the time of our visit. "With math, we're concentrating on the use of manipulatives focusing on the doing, rather than the answer," she said. ("Manipulatives"are blocks, coins, and other small objects that children use to see math at work.) The strongest push, King said, was in English Language Arts. "We're focusing on writing this year, with a secondary focus on reading," she said. For the Principal's Star Writers Club, students are welcome to bring work to be posted in King's office. In a 5th grade classroom unit on expressive language, one student wrote, "My eyes were like a flashlight with new batteries in it."
We saw a number of creative assignments and much energetic teaching during our visit. A 3rd grade teacher handled a testing review in a highly visual way. The class first determined the most outlandish multiple-choice answer to a test question and, in unison, threw the imaginary answer away. The teacher also mixed some pop culture into the lesson. "Okay, it's the American Idol call-in vote," she said, referring to the popular television show. "Which answer is the best?"
Parent volunteers we met were upbeat about the school, and "help wherever we can," one said. They were particularly proud of the school choir, as well as a makeshift art gallery where a number of student works based on African art were being displayed. The parents we spoke to seemed happy with the school, and one added that the school shouldn't be held accountable for every problem a student has. "People forget that success starts at home," another parent told us.
Still, teachers who felt discipline is not properly handled in the school encouraged us to visit the lunchroom. "You don't want to be here," the lunchroom coordinator told us as we entered. The noise level was high and the floor was littered with food. We found one student who had misbehaved in the lunchroom sitting in the corner of a 1st grade special education class instead of the principal's office.
Special education: The school has "self-contained" classrooms only for children with special needs in grades 1-6. (Paul Burkhardt, March 2005)