P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith

Phone: (212) 678-2854
Website: Click here
Admissions: Neighborhood school/gifted program
Principal: Donny Lopez
Neighborhood: Upper West Side
District: 3
Grade range: PK thru 05
Parent coordinator: ANN CRENOVICH

What's special:

A consistent approach, solid teaching, dance for everyone

The downside:

The students who struggle the most need more individual help

The InsideStats



Our review

It's no accident that the security guard at PS 163 is humming and kids break into dance on the playground (and every so often skip down the hall). Music and movement are common languages in a school where kids with a wide range of abilities come together to learn. Although the school has four distinct strands: dual language, gifted and talented, general education and special education, the classrooms are mingled throughout the building and kids are mixed-up in weekly clubs. Some dance classes, taught by National Dance Institute instructors, are split in half and different halves are combined so kids can get to know each other in the sessions. "Here, everyone's a dancer," said former Principal Virginia Pepe, who has a clear vision for the school. "No one is left out." [Virginia Pepe retired in August 2012. Replacing her is Donny Lopez, formerly a special education teacher at PS 84 and an assistant principal.]

Teachers follow the "workshop model" from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The workshop begins with a "mini-lesson," like those we saw in 3rd-grade classrooms on the importance of using transition words in writing. In the gifted and talented class, the teacher wrote down a long paragraph, moving quickly to keep up with her students' rapid-fire ideas. In the general education class, the teacher had to urge a bit more to bring out ideas. Although the resulting paragraph was shorter, the aim was exactly the same. Dual language teachers delivered lessons in Spanish (alternate days are in English). After each mini lesson, kids usually spread out to the tables and try it themselves and then gather to share and hear the teacher sum up the lesson.

The workshop model is also used to some extent in science, social studies and the Everyday Math Program. Fourth-graders in the science lab listened to a review of words like "amplify," "vibration" and "energy" and watched a demonstration before trying an experiment on sound. Classroom teachers support the lab work by reading books about sound and having kids write about it. For added continuity, new teachers have mentors in the building. There is still room for creativity, like one teacher who wrote a big math challenge in which students had to figure out the price of her family's Thanksgiving dinner.

Overall, we saw energetic teaching and kids who were paying attention. One or two teachers were too loud and too talky, but most combined talking and listening skillfully. Administrators and teachers were kind—crouching to eye level or placing a calming hand on a restless child's shoulder.

Parents said more trained adults would be helpful for the kids who are struggling the most, especially in the younger grades. "We are in the middle class squeeze," said dual language parent Carrie Reynolds. "We're not quite poor enough for Title I money but not quite as rich as other schools in the southern part of the district." Given more money, they would spend it on academic intervention. Parents who train to be "learning leaders" help fill this gap, as do student teachers.

Once a week children participate in clubs. The clubs we saw—macramé, math, guitar and basketball—looked like lots of fun. Principal Pepe is a proponent of activity and outdoor recess even in winter months.

Special Education: Integrated co-teaching classes have general and special needs children mixed together with two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education.

Admissions: PS 163 is a neighborhood school. Students are admitted to the gifted and talented classes according to Department of Education standards. (Lydie Raschka, December 2011.)


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