P.S. 290 Manhattan New School

Phone: (212) 734-7127
Website: Click here
Admissions: Neighborhood school
Principal: SHARON HILL
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
District: 2
Grade range: 0K thru 05
Parent coordinator: SALLY MASON

What's special:

Writing program that is a national model

The downside:

Cramped building; kindergarten waitlist

The InsideStats



Our review

The Manhattan New School, one of the top schools in the city, is known for its writing program. Founding Principal Shelly Harwayne and her staff brought tto life ideas and techniques that are used in classrooms across the country today. Many former and current staff members have written books that are used in teacher training courses. The school prides itself on keeping that spirit of experimentation alive.

Sharon Hill, a longtime teacher, became principal in 2006 after serving four years as an assistant principal. Hill wants her staff to approach teaching as "researchers who are always thinking about the most important next steps in students' learning." She looks for adaptability in teachers and a willingness to stay open.

Top-notch writing instruction, effective teamwork among children and the infusion of art into literature and projects like maps and timelines make MNS an exciting place to be. Children are productive and classes are calm. “I’m writing about trucks because I already know a lot about them,” said a 3rd grader, jotting notes from a book onto index cards. In a 5th-grade geometry class, a group of five special needs children worked with shapes at a table, while others used paper and pencils to work out problems. At MNS everything has educational value, including the tree trimmers outside in their big yellow truck. First graders walk over to the 2nd Avenue subway to check out its progress and return with a detailed explanation of how the ground is frozen first so it won’t collapse when workers drill.

The school has worked to strengthen its math program, especially in the upper grades, formerly a perceived weakness among parents in spite of excellent test scores. These efforts could be seen on bulletin boards and on classroom charts. Math celebration days mirror the publishing parties held for writing. A math coach works with teachers twice a week, more for those who need it, for eight weeks at a time on a rotating schedule. More attention is given to “accuracy and efficiency,” said Hill. We saw kids working on multiplication facts using flashcards and taking a multiple-choice quiz. A 2nd-grade parent, who has enrolled his child in a Saturday class in Chinatown, was not convinced. “They’re still on addition of small numbers,” he said. But other parents said their children could solve problems quickly and in a variety of different ways and that the pace felt right.

While the more-than-a-century-old MNS building may have character, it is cramped. But the situation has yielded some creative solutions: A former bathroom is a reading recovery room, the cafeteria doubles as a gym, and hallways serve as extended libraries and workspaces. There are two small enclosed yards where younger children play, while 4th and 5th graders play in the street, which is blocked to traffic twice a day.

A super-active parent body supports the school both by fund-raising and volunteering. On the day of our visit, we saw a dad reading to a class as a "mystery reader," two parents preparing a snack for kindergartners, and others attending a publishing party. PTA funds pay for assistant teachers and for arts programs such as opera and band instruction, playwriting, and chess.

Special education: Every grade has Collaborative Team Teaching classes, in which special needs and general education children are placed in the same class with two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. Additionally, specialists pull kids out or work with small groups in the classroom. Students are clustered, for instance for speech remediation, by need and age to make scheduling easier.

Admissions: Neighborhood school. Despite the opening of new schools in the neighborhood and the shrinking of the school zone, overcrowding continues and children who live in the zone are sometimes assigned to other schools. (Lydie Raschka, February 2011)

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