P.S. 111 Jacob Blackwell

37-15 13 STREET
QUEENS NY 11101 Map
Phone: (718) 786-2073
Admissions: Neighborhood school
Principal: RANDY SEABROOK
Neighborhood: Astoria/ LI City
District: 30
Grade range: PK thru 08
Parent coordinator: TRECIA PARSONS

What's special:

Small class size; good support from community groups.

The downside:

Test scores remain low.

The Inside Stats

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Our review

Randy Seabrook, principal of PS 111 since 2005, seems determined to motivate the staff, parents and students to achieve the progress that has eluded the Long Island City school for many years. The only school in District 30 to have been on the state's list of failing schools, known as "Schools Under Registration Review," PS 111 has struggled with discipline issues and abysmal test scores: On the 2004 state tests, it had the lowest reading scores in the city and the fifth worst math scores, and in the 2004-2005 school year, the suspension rate was almost triple the citywide average for schools of similar size.

Seabrook told us her goals include establishing "control and discipline, setting up procedures, and getting the school under control." Indeed, during our visit we observed far less noise and more order in the corridors than we did two years earlier, and the lunchroom was much cleaner.

Test scores remain troublingly low. A jump in the number of students scoring at the highest level on state tests in 2006 was likely related to the one-year presence of the gifted program, which added students in grades 3-5, but otherwise the school does appear to be moving some low-scoring students toward reaching grade level.

Seabrook is well-positioned to target reading scores; a former teacher and an assistant principal in District 27, she has a background in literacy, having coordinated the federal Reading First program for schools in Region 4.

Much of the administration's efforts have centered on building community. The school recently formed a student government, started a lunch club, and instituted pride-inspiring occasions such as Crazy Hat Day and Spirit Week, which join an annual art show, spring festival, and career day as special events. Students also choose charities to receive Penny Harvest funds. After incentives were put in place for classes with perfect attendance, the school's attendance rate has improved to 90 percent.

This small school is in a building that has space to spare. It added a 6th grade in 2006 and will serve students in pre-K to 8th grade starting in the 2008-09 school year. PS 111 has long received extra resources to keep class size low and all classes have 20 or fewer students.

We were impressed by the number of services provided for the students in this working-class neighborhood. The school has a wealth of administrators and support staff two assistant principals, nine school aides, one fulltime and one part-time counselor, a nurse, two family workers, and a social worker. Several parents and other members of the community serve the school as Learning Leaders, trained volunteers in the classroom. The school also has two full-day pre-kindergarten classes.

Community groups and national organizations fund plenty of extras, from a glass-enclosed greenhouse and a refurbished library and science lab to after school activities. Citibank, which has had a long-term relationship with the school, conducts a mentoring program and sends employees to tutor children. Arts programming includes instruction in dance, art, creative writing and vocal music.

Because of time spent on the mandated schedule of academics, students go to gym class only once a week. However, they do use the school yard for outdoor play after lunch. As part of a deal with the city, which is expanding a public library onto part of the school's property, the school will soon get an extension to its playground.

A gifted and talented program was added in September 2005 but was discontinued at the end of the school year. Some children returned complained that their children did not fit in at the school, although she said the two groups of students learned to get along over the course of the year.

Special education: The school has two self-contained classes for students with special needs, as well as Collaborative Team Teaching classes in most grades. These classes have two teachers, one with special education certification, working with a class of students with mixed abilities. (Dorothy Wilner and Ellen Hausknecht, October 2006)

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