P.S. 57 Hubert H. Humphrey
STATEN ISLAND NY 10304 Map
P.S. 57 Hubert H. Humphrey
SEPTEMBER 2006 UPDATE: Carolyn Telesmanich, a graduate of the Leadership Academy, a 14-month training program for aspiring principals, became principal before the 2006-07 school year, replacing Frank Campisi, who was principal when Insideschools visited in 2005.
Set across the street from long blocks of nondescript brick projects, PS 57 has the close-knit feel of a community school, despite a complicated mix of African immigrant students (including war orphans) and European- and American-born locals. Its clean, brightly tiled corridors clatter with footsteps when classes change, but fall silent, students intent, when class is in session.
It's a far cry from a few years ago, said Principal Frank Campisi, the fourth principal assigned to PS 57 in recent years. With 16 years as principal in Brooklyn and hardscrabble sections of the Bronx, Campisi arrived in 2002, when PS 57 was in deep crisis and on the verge of falling onto New York State's list of failing schools.
Comparing the school at the time to a demilitarized zone, Campisi said that "people were at each others' throats." Taking charge, he added, meant installing clear rules and regulations, along with an "assertive discipline policy," including a contract about good behavior signed by students and parents alike. Once the new structures were in place, the school's culture began to change, according to Campisi. "We are here as partners," he said. The common goal comes from parents, teachers, and administrators all wanting "the best for the kids."
The school's past is all but invisible today, although vestiges surface when a sharp-tongued teacher scolds her class or when 1st graders obediently color in unimaginative "R is for Rocket" worksheets. For the most part, though, students are well-engaged and eager, whether in a session with chess master "Mr. O" or in a hands-on science lesson. Academics extend beyond the classroom, with a weekly chess club and a newly reinstituted science fair competition that met with huge student enthusiasm.
Teachers and students enjoy small classes -- often, fewer than 20 students -- and a respectful camaraderie. Classrooms largely reflect teachers' personalities: Some are whisk-broom neat, with few books and toys in use, and others are chockablock with books, papers, murals, easels, and blocks. All have class libraries with books on different reading levels, and ample, welcoming reading areas.
Some teachers say their kids need to learn the grammar, phonics, and reading strategies that the city's required "balanced literacy" curriculum omits, and they feel pressed to find time to provide the instruction. Balanced literacy incorporates methods from both "whole language" -- sight-reading -- and phonics, or sounding out words.
Many kids do require help, says Assistant Principal Sandra Barnes, at least for a while. More than half of PS 57's students arrive from war-torn nations of West Africa. Many have never had formal education, and a number of new students filter into the school all year. Many were orphaned by war and now live with members of their extended their families, adding another layer of difficulty to the already daunting task of assimilation.
Although some are minimally involved, many students' families don't participate much in the life of the school. In some households, parents work two or three jobs, limiting their time for school programs; in others, low expectations and lack of awareness foster a sense of distance between families and the school. Community-building efforts include annual carnivals and school-wide barbecues, with Campisi as grill-master.
With a foot on two continents, children at PS 57 recently collected a shipping container's worth of nonperishable food, clothing, shoes, and baby supplies. Science teacher Patricia Lockhart trekked to Liberia to oversee its distribution.
Children who are struggling academically work either in their own classrooms or in small, bright specialized rooms with a wide range of learning specialists, including speech, reading, and English as a Second Language teachers; occupational and physical therapists; and literacy and math coaches. New teachers are mentored by master teachers on staff, although Campisi would like to invest even more in teacher training. For now, he has unearthed funds to reduce class sizes and fix a leaking roof, as well as support renovations under way in the school's two play yards, for lower- and upper-grade students.
Standardized math scores have risen 20 points since 2002, with about half of 3rd graders on or above grade level. Science measures are climbing as well, although reading scores continue to lag behind citywide averages. "I'm proud of my teachers, and I'm proud of my kids," says Campisi. The school's recent academic strides, Campisi said, make him eager to challenge the school's widely-published motto, Be the best you can be. "I tell the kids, we're not going for the gold anymore. Now, we're going for platinum."
Special education: On each grade level, the school has one "inclusion" or Collaborative Team Teaching class, with two teachers, at least one aide, and a 60/40 mix of general education students and students with special needs.
After school: Offerings include academics, sports, and arts enrichment. (Helen Zelon, March 2005)