PS 397 Spruce Street School

Phone: (212) 266-4800
Website: Click here
Admissions: Neighborhood school
Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan
District: 2
Grade range: PK thru 04
Parent coordinator: JULIE LAM

What's special:

Curriculum and culture focused on the community; strong partnerships

The downside:

Young, developing school establishing itself in a neighborhood with highly-regarded schools

The InsideStats


Our review

Spruce Street School opened in fall of 2009 with three kindergarten classes and a goal to serve East Tribeca’s growing family community. In 2011 it moved to the new Beekman Tower building at 12 Spruce Street after being housed for two years on the ground floor of Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education headquarters. At its permanent location, Spruce Street will expand to serve grades pre-k-8. 

Building and location:  The 76-story Beekman Tower, designed by Frank Gehry, features a five-story wing of tan brick that houses Spruce Street. The building features a large cafeteria, library, two-story auditorium, gym, art studios, and technology labs. It also houses rental apartments, the New York Downtown Hospital, and street-level stores. The fourth floor has a roof deck with 5,000 square feet of outdoor play space.

School environment and culture: Principal Nancy Harris, a former assistant principal at CASTLE Middle School, believes that learning is an “active process” and that schools are the pillars of strong communities. "Schools are shaped by their community, but the community also benefits from the school," she told us. As a new school with a small population, parent involvement at Spruce Street is strong. “Everyone's got the same mission,” said one parent, “to build an excellent school for our children."

On the day of our visit, students were well-mannered and eager to engage in activities. Classrooms brimmed with bright decorations, books, and toys. Hallways were lined with creative projects about various aspects of Tweed’s ornate décor: stairways reconstructed from wooden blocks and tinfoil, colorful depictions of doors and elevators. Harris told us that she "would have done the exercise anywhere to pique kid's interest in everyday things and hone research skills." 

Teaching and curriculum: "Our curriculum is very community focused," said Harris, "[our goal is to] capture the spirit of the neighborhood." One of the students' first assignments was to learn about a member of their community. One parent told us that her child chose to interview their mail carrier. Students visit galleries in Soho, neighborhood theatres, the local farmers market, and the library; in a partnership with the Salvadori Center lessons focus on the neighborhood’s buildings.

Inside the school students are active learners. A group of kindergartners walked slowly through the hall, counting their footsteps for a math lesson. When we checked back in with the class after they returned to their room, the teacher challenged the class to determine why some students counted higher numbers than others. “Maybe because some kids take big steps,” a student proposed.

In a music lesson, taught by an instructor from Third Street Music School students marched around their classroom studying rhythm with the help of their footsteps and various percussion instruments. Next door, students excitedly awaited their music teacher’s arrival and  quickly took seats on the rug when she walked in., and sang greetings to each of them. The children eagerly awaited their turn to sing a greeting in response and listened intently as the instructor gave them tips on their melody.

The school employs full-time visual arts and science instructors that provide lessons three times a week. The school received an $80,000 grant to purchase laptops, LED projectors, microscopes, and smart boards but the technology was not yet in place at the time of our visit.

Every Friday, the school hosts a "Guest Read Aloud" where community members, faculty, and parents read to students.

Special education: Specialists are available for speech therapy and other services.

English language learners:
Spruce Street has very few students who require English as a Second Language instruction.

Partnerships and programs: Consultants from Salvadori Center teach students about building and construction. Asphalt Green provides movement lessons twice a week and  teaches games to play at recess. Third Street Music School Settlement instructors provide music instruction. Tutors from New York University assist students in each classroom.

Family involvement:  Spruce Street’s very active Parent Teacher Association holds fundraising events, including a very successful book fair. “We have about 50 families and our gatherings are attended regularly by 75-100% of them, the principal said. Parents designed the school’s logo and website. “The school’s small parent community allows for a great closeness," said one parent. Another parent added, “To be part of something young is unique, it's a sort of privilege.”

After school: Students can sign up for fee-based afterschool programs with Gil's Sports and the Manhattan Youth Community Center.

Admissions: Neighborhood school. Changes were made in zoning for downtown Manhattan schools in December 2012. Check the District 2 website for the latest zone map. (Dan Fletcher, January, 2010; updated 2012)

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