P.S. 20 Clinton Hill

Phone: (718) 834-6744
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school
Principal: L BARBERA
Neighborhood: Fort Greene/ Clinton Hill
District: 13
Grade range: 0K thru 05
Parent coordinator: KAREN COLON

What's special:

Dynamic leadership, strong arts & dual language French program

The downside:

Enrollment decreasing in shared building

The InsideStats



Our review

PS 20 bursts with energy and life. Hallways are lined with student writing and artwork. Spacious and inviting classrooms have corners for dramatic play and rich supplies of books and art materials, especially in the lower grades. The school’s dynamic principal, Lena Barbera, has expanded project-based learning and the arts, as she did in her previous job as assistant principal at the popular PS 261.

A school-wide character-building project uses shared books to develop empathy, friendship, and tolerance. A bulletin board “Garden of Good Deeds” in the main-floor hallway celebrates small kindnesses and everyday compassion. We saw a lot of spontaneous affection between children and teachers on our visit.

PS 20 marries the old and the new. Boys and girls walk in separate lines and there is an optional uniform. Many classrooms have antique wooden cupboards and closets. One pre-K room even has a working fireplace. At the same time, there is strong progressive teaching and abundant use of technology, including SMARTboards, lots of computers, and laptops. PS 20 is part of the Department of Education’s Innovation Zone or iZone, which offers computer-based learning. A dual language, French-English program began in 2013.

Despite many strengths, the school faces challenges. Barbera became interim acting principal in 2009 after the former principal, Sean Keaton was arrested and charged with assaulting a kindergarten teacher, who remains on the staff. It took four years for her to be officially named principal, in February 2013. The school’s test scores are disappointing. While students were focused in most classes we observed, some were less engaged and a few were rambunctious.

PS 20 shares its building with the Academy of Arts and Letters, a middle school that in 2011 expanded, adding elementary grades. The two schools have a cordial, collaborative partnership:  They are working together on projects to benefit all students in the building, such as a rooftop greenhouse with a classroom, amphitheater, real grass and play space and a renovation of the shared schoolyard. Still, some PS 20 parents fear the expansion of Arts and Letters comes at the expense of their school, which has been steadily losing enrollment. The addition of a French dual-language program in 2013 may attract more parents to PS 20.

Special education: Collaborative team teaching classes, which blend general-education and special education students with two certified teachers, will grow up the grades until there is a CTT class on every grade. The school’s single self-contained classroom for special education students is as compelling, interesting and visually rich as any other classroom in the school, with high-quality student work on display.

Admissions: PS 20 is a zoned neighborhood school that frequently has space for students from outside the zone. Native French-speakers get priority in admissions to the dual language program. (Helen Zelon, February 2011; updated june 2013)

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