P.S. 49 Willis Avenue

383 EAST 139 STREET
BRONX NY 10454 Map
Phone: (718) 292-4623
Admissions: District 7 choice, priority to students living in the Southern Area
unzoned
Principal: Frank Hernandez
Neighborhood: South Bronx
District: 7
Grade range: PK thru 05
Parent coordinator: ALEXIA RODRIGUEZ

What's special:

A dynamic principal and a cohesive staff.

The downside:

Recruiting new teachers is always a challenge.

The InsideStats

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Our review

Youngsters at PS 49 visit a working farm in Queens, where they milk a cow, pick pumpkins, and ride a pony. They learn about dinosaurs from a trip to the American Museum of Natural History. They visit their neighborhood fire station, the local library branch, the police precinct, and the post office. In their school, they interview the custodian about how the boiler works and help the cafeteria workers make sandwiches.

Each trip offers a chance to write about something new. After the visit to the post office, they write letters to one another. They interview the school safety officer, and write about how he keeps the school safe. "In order for them to write, they need to have experiences," said Assistant Principal Josette Weeks. "We make sure they have plenty of experiences to write about."

The administration and staff are dedicated to teaching the children of PS 49 that there is a wider world beyond the vacant lots and boarded up buildings of the South Bronx. Principal Laura Galloway encourages parents as well as children to explore the city by giving then incentives such as free tickets to plays in Manhattan. "She pushes the children to get away from the neighborhood," said one mother, Josephine Becerril.

Galloway (who wears the same uniform as the children: a white blouse, blue cross-tie, blue cardigan, and blue skirt) tells children she grew up in a housing project in the South Bronx herself and attended PS 18, a school not far from PS 49. (She later attended Bronx High School of Science, City College, and Fordham University.) "I tell them, 'You can come from this community and do well,'" she said.

Galloway knows just about every child by name, and offers rewards, not punishment, to teach children to behave. When the girls' bathroom was littered with paper towels, she told the girls if they kept it clean she would offer them a treat. When they kept their part of the bargain, she kept hers: she placed a pretty table with a vase of flowers in the bathroom. She has high standards for all children, who seem to work hard to do their best under her care.

When Galloway became principal in 1999, PS 49 was on the state's list of schools that were threatened with closing -- called Schools Under Registration Review (SURR). Parents and teachers agree she has turned the school around, easing out staff members who were inadequate and bringing in an energetic new corps of dedicated teachers. And, while test scores are still low, the proportion of children scoring the lowest level, Level 1, on standardized reading tests declined by half and the proportion scoring Level 1 on the math tests decreased by two-thirds between 1999 and 2004. The school has been removed from the SURR list, and Galloway is hopeful that increasing numbers of children will moved from "Level 2" to the state standard "Level 3" and above in coming years. "It takes time," she said.

During the first few years of her tenure, PS 49, a brick and glass building constructed in 1964, was part of the so-called chancellor's district, the group of low performing schools that were given extra resources and attention by the chancellor. That district instituted the scripted "Success For All" reading program, which she said provided children with some basic skills, even if their teachers were inexperienced. But Galloway welcomed the new chancellor's uniform curriculum, called Balanced Literacy, introduced in 2003, because it flooded the classrooms with fun-to-read picture books and allowed each child to read a different book based on his or her ability and interest. The new initiatives also allowed the school to brighten its classrooms with rocking chairs and cozy rugs.

Recruiting new teachers is always a challenge. It's even more difficult to find substitutes. Even though PS 49 is only one subway stop beyond Manhattan on the Number 6 train, some teachers are frightened to venture to the South Bronx, Galloway said.

But the teachers who do come seem happy to be here. The day of my visit, teachers consistently spoke gently and respectfully to children. I didn't hear a raised voice the whole day. Tim Barber, an accountant who changed careers to become a 4th grade teacher, said the work is rewarding because: "You can change a life."

Special education: The school offers several "self-contained" classes for special needs children only, as well as several team-teaching classes. These classes have two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education, and some of the children have special needs while others are in general education.

After school: Academic enrichment is offered three days a week until 5:00 p.m. (Clara Hemphill, December 2004)

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