P.S. 52 Queens
QUEENS NY 11434 Map
P.S. 52 Queens
Things are looking up at PS 52. During the 2004-05 school year it was taken off New York State's list of schools in need of improvement. Test scores are rising, a stable administration is in place after several short-term substitute principals came and went, and the school is adapting well to the curriculum introduced citywide in 2003. It's also beginning to lose its reputation as "a tough school," according to Principal Linda Pough.
When she started in September 2003, Pough found it was time for a literal housecleaning. She and her staff cleared cobwebs from the library, finding books that were yellow with age and still on the shelf -- some from the 1920s, when the school was built. Troops from New York Cares, a not-for-profit that organizes volunteers, helped move the rejuvenated library to the ground floor and painted it lemon yellow. They also cleaned up a grassy yard next to the school. On our visit pansies were blooming on the lawn and rhododendrons were growing.
PS 52 used to be known in the neighborhood as the "shelter school" because of its proximity to two large shelters for the homeless, but today, children from the shelters attend all the schools in the district, according to Pough. Parents are kept in the loop by monthly newsletters sent home by every grade and by a Web site run by the principal: www.publicschool52.com. An unintended consequence of the improved communication is a smaller turnout at PTA meetings, both because parents no longer have to catch up on school news there and they are better satisfied with the school's operation, according to Pough. A few teachers we spoke to bemoaned the lack of parent participation, although special events such as performances or ceremonies honoring the "student of month" are well attended.
Also well attended was a workshop introducing parents to the school's new engineering program, the focus of its science curriculum. Parents worked alongside 4th, 5th, and 6th graders who had learned how to build bridges out of wood or plastic pieces. During our visit, we watched a science teacher charged with enthusiasm teach kids how to build an electrical circuit.
Another popular addition to the school's repertoire is a steel drum program, an idea that Pough imported from PS 308, the high-performing school in Brooklyn's district 16 where she served as assistant principal for eight years. Kids were reluctant to participate until she bused in students from 308 to play. "Then I had a waiting list," the principal said.
And how were those test scores raised? "We tried to give it all we could," Pough said. "The math program, kind of hodgepodge before, is now more unified." That stems in part from the efforts of an "Aussie," a teacher trainer for math from a well-regarded Australian program. There are study groups for teachers to help them learn how to teach individual subjects with greater depth and through a program at Columbia University's Teachers College, teachers are getting intensive training in that graduate school's approach to teaching reading and writing. "I know that teachers were relying on basal readers here for a long time," the principal said, referring to Dick-and-Jane-style reading books. "On top of taking away their basals we were lucky to get resources."
One challenge the school faces is that many neighborhood children stay in daycare until 1st grade, and don't attend kindergarten. " It sets them back," Pough said. "We need to be all using the same common vocabulary." A bigger problem, she said, is the high mobility rate of the families: 20 new 5th graders entered the school in spring 2005 alone. Many families rent rather than own homes, moving frequently, and others return to their home countries, including Haiti and Jamaica. Pre-K classes are held in portables on the schoolyard.
Special education: Several classes are team-taught by one special education teacher and one general education teacher. There is also a class for students who are emotionally disturbed.
After school: The school offers academic programs only. (Pamela Wheaton, May 2005)