P.S. 35 The Clove Valley School
STATEN ISLAND NY 10301 Map
P.S. 35 The Clove Valley School
PS 35 is a well-loved community school that offers students strong personal support in an educational environment that balances tradition with progressive teaching. Since the arrival of Principal Melissa Garafolo, in 2007, the school has adopted the Columbia Teacher's College workshop model in all its classes, with strong emphasis on reading and writing at all levels of the curriculum.
Building and location: Set on a corner lot, beside leafy trees and picnic tables, PS 35’s compact, two-story building is inviting and cozy. With only 16 classrooms and one multi-purpose room that serves as gym, cafeteria, and auditorium, instruction happens in every corner. Teachers’ resource rooms have been converted into teaching spaces and an occupational therapist’s “office” is squeezed onto a second-floor stairwell landing. Science and social studies cluster teachers travel from class to class, with supplies and materials on rolling carts.
School environment and culture: Many parents of current students attended PS 35 – as did their cousins, their siblings, and some of their parents before them. The school enjoys tremendous stability; about 97 percent of students stay in the school from year to year. PS 35’s dress code is observed Monday through Thursday, with ‘dress-down’ Fridays.
The school’s student population is not extremely diverse. At the time of our visit, there were only 23 English language learners students enrolled.
Teaching and curriculum: Garofolo has changed the instructional focus since her arrival. She says there is less emphasis on test-prep during the school day - instead it happens after school and more energy directed to developing individual students as readers and writers. Classrooms we visited buzzed with activity and energy: third-grade students worked together in small groups, first-graders read with partners, and fourth-graders competed to share answers in a math lesson. Rooms were, for the most part, well-supplied with accessible books and materials; student-made projects and art covered many bulletin boards and spilled onto the classroom walls.
Teachers work to develop strategies to teach high- and low-achieving students. There is a book club for strong readers with good attendance (there's a wait list to join) and a math coach works to challenge the highest-achieving students. Students who need extra help work with teachers, specialists, and classroom volunteers to bring up both skills and confidence.
Afterschool "Test Sophistication" workshops focus on test prep, and the school consistently posts high standardized test scores, especially in English Language Arts. Despite the high scores, the school has received only fair Progress Report grades. Because Progress Reports reward growth in the lowest third of students, Garofolo says, schools like hers, where most students score Level 3 or 4, have a harder time documenting "progress."
One of Garofolo's initiatives has been small classes in the early grades. In kindergarten and grade 1, class sizes range from 16-21 students. Garofolo has also created a departmentalized focus for 4th and 5th grade students, who change classrooms for different subjects, much as they will once they enter middle school.
Family participation: Parents are involved in planning school activities and celebrations, like a Father-Daughter Valentine's Dance and Spring Carnival, and often help out as classroom volunteers. On the day we visited, more than a dozen kindergarten parents took part in a writing celebration. One first-grade mother came to eat lunch with her son, whose teacher had noticed he was sad at lunchtime. Parent volunteers help teachers with lessons and prepare classroom supplies. The school's small size makes communication easy, says PTA president Anne Fisco. "It's really a family in this place," she said. "We're not kidding." Another parent, Karen Costa, says the school "listens to the need of every child." (Both Costa and Fisco attended PS 35 as children.)
After school: The school offers a host of afterschool clubs and workshops, including tech club, book club, and art club, as well as a LatchKey program (administered by the Staten Island Children's Aid Society) that includes homework help and recreation. Additionally, the school requires students to participate in the after school Test Sophistication workshops until early March.
Special education: No PS 35 students are in self-contained classes. There is one collaborative team teaching (CTT) class, with two certified teachers and a mix of general education and special needs students, but there is no plan to add additional CTT classes as this group matures.
English Language Learners: Less than 10 percent of PS 35 students are English language learners. On the day we visited, a recent immigrant new to a kindergarten classroom (he had enrolled weeks earlier, mid-year) was learning vocabulary as part of a counting-game. The teacher gave him extra pointers, and the students integrated him into their play in stride.