P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente
MANHATTAN NY 10009 Map
P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente
Letters of the alphabet seem to dance on the walls at PS 15, a small school on the Lower East Side, while colorful illustrations and student work cover almost all the remaining space. A visitor may not guess that many students here live in housing projects and temporary shelters in Alphabet City, or that the school has struggled for years to raise the academic performance of its children. In 1998, PS 15 was closed for persistently low standardized test scores, then reopened with a new administration. Scores have inched up since then but are not yet where they should be.
One challenge the school faces is how to educate kids who, because they live in shelters or other precarious housing arrangements, frequently come and go. In 2005, Principal Thomas Staebell arrived and instituted a number of changes that have helped, including a new emphasis on responsiveness to both children and their parents. He drew on the resources of the progressive Bank Street College of Education to help train teachers. He also sought to ease the frustration felt by some parents who, said parent coordinator Lanette Murphy, believed their problems had previously gone unaddressed by the school. Staebell also started to make a point of greeting children every morning and inviting parents to discuss concerns with him directly. "We welcome parents here regardless of what they come with," said Staebell, who holds a "coffee and cookies" meet-and-greet for parents twice a month. He also says that families who have moved on to other shelters or permanent housing in the city sometimes opt to keep their children at PS 15.
Staebell has also given kids who act out an incentive to change. Their behavior is charted by their teachers, who then work with parents to ensure that improved decorum is recognized. We met one girl who proudly showed off her chart to Staebell, and looked forward to the reward promised by her mother. In every classroom, there is also a general color-coded behavior chart that alerts kids to how they're doing. Students who behave well are rewarded with 10 minutes at the end of the day to choose their own activity.
About half of the faculty left or retired during Staebell's first year. The principal said he told those who remained that the school would, going forward, insist on the highest expectations of both students and teachers. He emphasized the need for consistency in classrooms, so that now teachers work off the same curriculum and establish the same benchmarks for every child in each grade. Staebell told us that teachers attend weekly staff meetings to review student records and data.
As part of his faculty reform efforts, Staebell hired more male teachers to become role models for the burgeoning population of boys at the school. He also brought in AUSSIE (Australian and United States Services in Education) consultants to train teachers in the citywide curriculum's teaching methods.
One teacher told us that she and her colleagues were held accountable for student achievement, and excitedly showed us Fundations which she used to supplement the literacy curriculuma program she felt had helped children better learn letters through visual cues. She added that teachers were also encouraged to respond sensitively to their students' problems. On our visit, we entered a room where kindergartners were causing some constructive commotion by reading their books out loud. Despite the noise, we noticed one child dozing off; the teacher did not attempt to wake him because she knew he was having sleeping problems at home. However, Staebell told us that if this happened again, his parents would be asked to the school for a discussion.
The school employs both visual art and dance teachers, and we took a cue from all the displayed artwork that students take art class regularly. In addition, dancers from professional dance troupes have come to work with students. A new library with citrus colored walls, laptops, and a wireless network connection was in the final stages of completion at the time of our visit.
The Educational Alliance, a Lower East Side community center, runs two Head Start classes in the building.
Special education: There is one "self-contained" class for children with special needs only, as well as "collaborative team teaching" (CTT) classes, in which two teachers oversee a setting mixing children with special needs and general education students. The school shares its building with PS 138, a school for kids with severe disabilities. Some of these students have begun to take classes with PS 15 students.
After school: Several community organizations, including the Jacob Riis Community Center, Boys and Girls Republic, and Grand Street Settlement, offer programs in the building. (Catherine Man, March 2007)