P.S. 197 John B. Russwurm

2230 5 AVENUE
Phone: (212) 690-5960
Admissions: Neighborhood school
Principal: Natasha Spann
Neighborhood: Harlem
District: 5
Grade range: 0K thru 05
Parent coordinator: Esther Diaz

What's special:

A warm, nurturing atmosphere in a school that's small enough for the principal to know his students by name.

The downside:

Test scores & attendance are below average for the city.

The InsideStats



Our review

SEPTEMBER 2009 UPDATE: Democray Prep Charter School has moved into PS 197.

MAY 2004 REVIEW: PS 197 stands out, said Jane Bean-Folkes and Grace Chough, even among the many schools they see as teacher trainers from Columbia University. An upbeat atmosphere and teachers who are exceptionally enthusiastic about honing their craft make the school a place the two professionals love to visit.

During our tour, the quality of the PS 197 faculty struck us, too, as uniformly high. If the students were working independently, they were genuinely working. If the teacher were talking, the students were paying attention. And if the kids were called on to participate, they did so with what seemed like true enjoyment.

We noticed that Principal Renardo Wright praised several teachers on their lessons and students on their work. It's apparently one way that he tries to set an example for the kind of affirmation he wants to see throughout the school. Wright rewards good behavior with red tickets, and the three students with the most win a prize at the end of the year, as do the teachers of those students. Children do the morning announcements and lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance every Monday and Friday. Kids seem to have a lot of affection for Wright; they run after him, hug him and shake his hand.

Being a good role model for African-American youth is central to Wright's personal mission. Raised with his two brothers by his mother, Wright grew up in project housing in the PS 197 neighborhood. "In New York City, 50 percent of African-American men are without jobs," he said. "That's a crisis. That's my mission. We have to make school a good experience for kids from a very early age."

To meet that goal, PS 197 recently switched to "school-based option," which means that Wright and his faculty will have more control over whom they hire. Wright doesn't want, for example, a teacher who will post average work on a bulletin board, because he believes that will send a message to the child that he or she isn't capable of better. He's also installing a Harlem Hospital mental health clinic in the building. After-school programs are on offer every day and about half of the students participate.

Although the school's standardized test scores are rising, they still linger below average for the city as does the school's attendance rate.

Special education: PS 197 has four classes in which special education students study with each other and four in which they are integrated with general education students. We saw lots of effective and enthusiastic learning in both environments. The class for mentally retarded students was so successful that the city is going to establish another one in PS 197 next year. (Helen Chernikoff, May 2004)

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