P.S. 30 Wilton
BRONX NY 10454 Map
P.S. 30 Wilton
Principal Roxan Marks started her day at PS 30 warning a 12-year-old girl (who is really too old to be in 5th grade) not to fondle a boy in the cafeteria. In mid-morning, she assisted another child who had had a severe asthma attack and needed to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance. By early afternoon, Marks, clearly tired, stepped outside to draw a breath of fresh air. Crossing her arms and sighing deeply she said: "It's been such a hard year."
There were four principals at PS 30 in the year before Marks arrived in July 2003, and her first task when school opened in September was to reassure both the children and the staff that she wouldn't leave, too. "The children would come to me and say, 'Are you going to stay? Are you going to stay?'" Marks recalled. "It was sad. The staff felt demoralized. My theme, my vision, my way to reassure them, was to say that we needed to be a community."
There are hints of progress. An unusually able assistant principal, Lisa Ripperger, who taught at the well-regarded PS 321 in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, has joined Marks and together they have made plans to turn the school around. They've hired some new, young teachers who are energetic and capable. They've arranged for teachers to receive training and workshops to perfect their craft. Ripperger (who also worked in California with Tony Alvarado, the former New York City schools superintendent credited with making District 2 schools on the Upper East Side among the best in the nation) does lunch duty every day, and supervises the older children on the playground. Thanks to various federal, state and local initiatives, classes are much smaller than they were just a few years ago. Classroom libraries bulge with classics of children's literature.
But the challenges are enormous. At PS 30, 137 of the 730 children have been held back at least once, and many have been held back two or even three times. These children are often alienated and angry, and bring to the school teenage issues of sexual activity and aggression that are more common in a junior high school. For example, when teachers experimented with letting children at PS 30 go to the bathroom at will, rather than in a group with their teacher, one child set a wastebasket on fire. Another stuffed the toilets with paper and flooded the bathrooms. In an unrelated incident, a child came to school with a knife. More than 300 children at PS 30 have been diagnosed with asthma, and many miss school frequently because of poor health.
PS 30 has a long tradition of teaching Spanish-speaking children predominantly in their native language, and some of the teachers have imperfect command of English. In one class I visited, children copied from the blackboard an ode to Earth Day written by their teacher -- complete with grammatical errors. "Thank you Earth for giving us what we need. We need food. We need breathe. We need home."
On the bright side, in another class, a teacher led students in an interesting discussion of the news from a newspaper projected on an overhead projector. If hard work and dedication can change the school, Marks and Ripperger will be successful. "I've made a commitment to be here," the principal said. (Clara Hemphill, April 2004)