P.S. 257 John F. Hylan
BROOKLYN NY 11206 Map
P.S. 257 John F. Hylan
PS 257 is a true community school. Many teachers live in the neighborhood, and a handful went to the school themselves as children. Other teachers can't bring themselves to leave, even after they reach retirement age.
The school serves many Spanish-speaking and African American children who live in the Williamsburg Houses, a mass of nearby housing projects. A handful of children of Chinese ancestry and “even a few blonde kids” have enrolled as the gentrifying neighborhood has become more diverse, said Brian Leavy De Vale, principal since 2002. But the location, amid housing projects and near the bleak-looking Woodhull Hospital, is less than ideal.
Thanks to a 2010 federal magnet grant, the school has a marching band and classes in ballet. It also offers graphic arts and after-school touch football.
The school is a joyful place, where teachers seem happy to teach and kids are encouraged to treat each other with respect. "The sense of community is amazing,” said Joseph Gallagher, the magnet coordinator for District 14. Test scores are above average for the city, a testament to the success of a school where the majority of children are poor enough to qualify for free lunch.
De Vale is a traditionalist who recalls fondly his own education at Roman Catholic parochial schools. He believes in strict discipline and order, and insists that children wear uniforms. But he also believes in the importance of play. Children go outside for recess except when the weather is below freezing. Kindergarten classes have blocks. He has also adopted some of the so-called “balanced literacy” techniques to teach reading with picture books and children’s literature—not textbooks.
Special education: The school offers "self-contained" classes for children with special needs as well as team-teaching classes that mix special ed and general education students. There is a school psychologist and social worker. It is barrier free, and children who use wheelchairs have special "adaptive phys ed" classes. Assistant principal Melvin Martinez, formerly a special education teachers, gave up his office to turn it into a room for extra help for special education pupils. On our visit, we saw kids faces light up when he was with them.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Children from outside the zone may apply through the magnet program. (Clara Hemphill, phone interviews, February 2013)