P.S. 69 Daniel D. Tompkins
STATEN ISLAND NY 10314 Map
P.S. 69 Daniel D. Tompkins
NOVEMBER 2007 UPDATE: PS 69 has a new principal, Doreen Murphey. A former assistant principal, Murphy took over in September 2007, following the retirement of Jacqueline Barbagallo, who was principal at the time of Inside School's visit.
APRIL 2005 REVIEW: The hallways gleam at PS 69, waxed and buffed to a high shine, and the sounds of classic '50s rock 'n' roll mingle with the laughter of little children as a kindergarten class takes a dance break between lessons. There's a kind of contagious joyousness here, a warmth that carries over from the classrooms to the enthusiastic administration. Principal Jacqueline Barbagallo is clearly a woman in love with her kids, her school, and her dedicated staff, who help her achieve an enviably high standard in elementary education.
With nearly 800 students and five or six classes on a grade, PS 69 serves a wide range of children, from the physically and intellectually able to those with physical and intellectual or emotional challenges. Built in 1976 in what was then farmland (and is now fully developed residential tracts of one- and two-family homes), this barrier-free school attracts students with limited mobility and who can benefit from specialized programs, in areas ranging from academics to gym, tailored to kids with special needs.
"These kids are the highlight of my school," says Barbagallo. The school's commitment is explicit in the special-needs classrooms, which are alive with the same vocabulary "word walls," reading areas, learning centers and math toys as the mainstream classrooms. Four stand-alone classes serve kids with learning and emotional disabilities. Some teachers stay with their group over time one has had the same class for four years, building relationships and academic skills. Visiting an upper-grade special education room, Doreen Murphy, one of the school's two assistant principals, said: "These kids came in not being able to sit in a seat and eat breakfast. Now they're reading sight words out of a book.
"PS 69 has gradually adopted the city approach to the new curriculum", said Barbagallo. The entire school now uses the city-favored "workshop" model for writing instruction, in which children write multiple drafts of works from a number of genres and often have "publishing parties" with parents to celebrate completion of a project. The school also uses the "balanced literacy" approach to teaching reading, combining phonics sounding out words with "whole language," learning words by sight and in context. Teachers "have more freedom with balanced literacy, because it's not scripted, like a basal reader," said Assistant Principal Nicole Cirello. But unscripted doesn't mean unprepared, Barbagallo insisted, saying, "The teacher can't just wing it you have to know every sequence, every day." In 2004 - 2005, classes mixed children of different abilities for the first time. "We should have done it sooner," Barbagallo said. Teachers, many of whom have been hired into the school since 2002, have benefited from "a lot" of professional development to compensate, at least in part, for the absence of shared prep time that can be used for planning, according to Murphy. The same time constraints mean that students sometimes end up watching a video in the school auditorium during their classroom teacher's prep.
Science education is strong at PS 69. Upper-grade students take the subject twice or three times weekly, with a change-your-life science teacher, Nick LaCava, who treats the kids with an intoxicating mixture of humor, courtesy, and respect. Students in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade have science twice weekly; pairs of students in one lab we visited explored conductivity in a classroom with dimmed lights to better see the tiny electric bulb's glint. The kindergarten has its own sunny wing; each room opens onto a shared courtyard with climbing equipment. Many kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms lack a rug for shared reading, but most do have ample libraries with books for various levels of readers and pretend-play supplies, especially in kindergarten.
Enrichments wrap around the school day, with before-school reading help for younger grades, midday tutoring for at-risk kids, and a wide array of after-school programs, focusing on academics, test readiness, performing arts, sports, and arts and crafts. PS 69's 5th grades have ballroom dance lessons once weekly, while all classes take gym weekly and use the huge outdoor playground daily, weather permitting. Some kids actually play, but more than a few 5th grade girls sit on the sidelines, chatting into cell phone headsets.
Tolerance for difference is a cornerstone of the school's culture, teachers and administrators told us. Beyond the wide mix of student abilities, the school sponsors programs to foster conflict resolution, recognize outstanding 4th-grade readers, and celebrate "school citizenship" with bulletin boards honoring good deeds large and small. Volunteers from the 4th and 5th grades "lead" kindergarten and grade 1 classes from the large, noisy lunchroom to the schoolyard and back again; new "trainees" trail the lines, hoping they'll be picked for next year.
Parent involvement is inconsistent. As is often the case, a core group of parents volunteers regularly in the school. The principal says parents are always on hand, yet others say that parent workshops draw only 25 or so participants, low for a school with more than 800 students. AP Murphy says that parents are busy and are under-involved in student academics. For that reason, the school assigns little homework only 35 - 40 minutes daily in grade 5 choosing instead to pack as much as possible into the school day. It's a formula that seems to work well; the school's test scores consistently outstrip city and state averages in reading and math, in a nurturing environment of high expectations and dedicated teaching.
School nurses say that 20 to 25 children on each grade have been diagnosed with asthma.
The school is one of only three Staten Island schools chosen to pilot a stand-alone gifted and talented program, beginning with 1st grade in fall, 2005, and growing as children progress.
English as a Second Language: One full-time teacher works with 35 to 40 children in small-group English language instruction.
Special education: Four stand-alone ("self-contained") special education classes serve 32 students. The school plans to introduce a "collaborative team teaching" (CTT) kindergarten class special- and general education students are mixed in the same class, which is overseen by two teachers in fall 2005. Notably, the school offers specialized gym instruction designed to build gross- and fine-motor skills for children who will benefit from intensive, skills-focused physical education.
After school: Programs run the gamut from academics to sports, fine arts, dance, and crafts, with test-readiness workshops for upper-grade students and skills-building programs for the children at risk of being held back.
Admissions: Special-needs students are bused to school from outside the neighborhood. (Helen Zelon, April 2005)