P.S. 20 Clinton Hill
BROOKLYN NY 11205 Map
P.S. 20 Clinton Hill
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 interim acting 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.
Despite many strengths, the school faces significant 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. She cannot be named as permanent principal until the investigation is complete. [In February 2013, she was officially named principal.]
The school’s test scores are disappointing. Only two-thirds of the teachers who responded to a Department of Education survey in 2009-10 said the school maintains discipline and order. 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 Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters, a middle school that in December 2010 received approval to become a K-8 school. Barbera and Arts & Letters principal Allison Gaines Pell have a cordial, collaborative partnership: They are working together on projects to benefit all students in the building, such as a planned 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 will come at the expense of their school, which has been steadily losing enrollment in recent years.
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. (Helen Zelon, February 2011; updated February 2013 with principal information)