Brooklyn School of Inquiry
BROOKLYN NY 11204 Map
Brooklyn School of Inquiry
From the colorfully painted ceiling at the building’s entrance to the airy, bright classrooms, it’s clear that Brooklyn School of Inquiry is a unique place and has resources other city schools only dream of: traditional learning materials alongside abundant technology like math manipulatives, a kid-scaled science lab loaded with animals, and entire classrooms dedicated to block building, science, music, and studio art. Principal Donna Taylor, a former publishing executive, is directing her creative drive into Brooklyn’s first citywide gifted and talented school and building a beacon for rigorous, progressive education. Founded in 2009 with two kindergarten and two 1st-grade classes, this school is adding a grade each year up through 8th and will be at full capacity in 2016.
While children who qualify for seats at BSI must score extremely high on the city’s G&T exams, Taylor’s approach to education doesn’t include drill work, memorization, and overly burdensome homework. “There’s a huge disconnect between a 99-point score [on the G&T exam] and a 5-year-old’s social and emotional development,” she said. A “deep, compacted, and accelerated” curriculum works for BSI students because teachers “teach really high and scaffold underneath it.”
The teachers, hand-picked by Taylor, are all certified in G&T education and have a strong voice in shaping the school. Teaching seems to balance hands-on experiences (especially in science) and plenty of academic content. All classrooms have at least two adults: a teacher and a paraprofessional, who is often another teacher seeking G&T certification. The school maintains a homework-optional policy, especially in the lower grades. Some teachers assign weekly homework packets that can be completed (or not) at a family’s personal pace; others give more frequent homework but don’t reward or punish its completion.
Children worked with a focus and industry that belied their youth. The 1st-grade independent reading time was quiet as a library, with children whispering explanations of the legend of the Minotaur to a visiting guest. In a math lesson, kids brainstormed solutions to an addition problem as their teacher deftly documented their approaches on a SMARTboard. While some 1st graders obediently sorted words into lists without quite understanding the consonant-vowel coding system, for the most part students were attentive and deeply engaged. Transitions between activities or to different classrooms were cheerful and smooth.
The school aims to build a solid, supportive culture with Tribes Learning Community workshops. Building a vibrant community is a challenge for a school that draws it students citywide, Taylor said. Many students come from nearby Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Brighton Beach, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst, but several dozen come from brownstone Brooklyn and the downtown neighborhoods, and a few trek in from Staten Island, and the Rockaways in Queens. Parent engagement is “formidable” Taylor said, with spillover crowds at school information nights, full-force showings at parent-teacher conferences, and robust fundraising (a half million dollars in 2012 with 310 students enrolled) that funded many of the school’s special enrichments.
While BSI easily shares its building with the Academy of Talented Scholars and a District 75 school, the tiny, common schoolyard is too small, a drawback for young children and for school leaders who believe in the value of outdoor play.
Special education: The building is wheelchair accessible. About five percent of the students have Individualized Education Plans, and some come with a para-professional. There are no Integrated Co-Teaching classes but the principal said she would gladly add them if enough children qualify for the school and require them.
After school: Many children come to the school from distant neighborhoods and travel back and forth on DOE-provided or parent-funded buses so they do not choose to stay for after-school. In 2013 about a third of the students were enrolled in a fee-based program run by Wingspan.
Admissions: All students must take the DOE’s G&T test to qualify for admission. Most new students who are invited to enter the school score 99, the test’s top score, although siblings of current students, who have an enrollment preference, can be admitted with scores of 98 or 97. There are many more qualifiers than available seats.The school’s main entry point is kindergarten, with a few seats opening above that level as families move or elect to change schools. (Helen Zelon, March 2011; updated Pamela Wheaton, May 2013)