P.S./M.S. 27 The Agnes Y. Humphrey School for Leadership
AUGUST 2011 UPDATE: PS/MS 27 closed in June 2011. The building houses the Red Hook Neighborhood School, an elementary school with grades K-5, and Summit Academy Charter School, designed as a 6-12 secondary school.
DECEMBER 2009 UPDATE: Winston Hamann has replaced Sara Belcher-Barnes as principal.
MAY 2009 UPDATE: In December, the Department of Education announced that PS/IS 27 will begin to phase out in June 2009. Students currently in K-4 at the elementary school will have first priority to attend the Red Hook Neighborhood School, which will open in September to replace PS 27. While current 5th-graders have participated in the District 15 Middle School Choice process, the 6th and 7th-grade classes will remain in the building through the 8th grade as the middle school program phases out. The high school program will end in June, and the current high school students will transfer to other schools in September.
NOVEMBER 2006 REVIEW: Like the historic Red Hook neighborhood where it's located, PS 27 went largely unnoticed for many years. Now, thanks to new investment, new attention, and a major expansion of grade levels, it is experiencing a renaissance. The school has grown from being an elementary-only school to include middle and high school grades, rechristening itself the Agnes Humphrey School for Leadership, one of the few pre-K-12 programs in the city.
The school draws many children from the Red Hook Houses, a large public housing project in the neighborhood, and many students enter kindergarten unprepared for school. While it's a challenge to bring the youngsters up to speedapparent in the school's low test scoresthe school is trying some novel approaches. For example, PS 27 offers an "early K" program for students who are of kindergarten age but not quite ready for its rigors. Some students stay there all year; others move out as their social and academic skills mature. All elementary grade classes have two grades combined, and every class has at least two teachers. Through 6th grade, teachers "loop" with their students, meaning that faculty members remain with the same class for two years. Teachers say this gives kids about a month of instruction that would ordinarily be lost as students make the transition from one teacher to another.
The school also seeks to supplement classroom instruction with the resources found in the neighborhood and city. The day we visited, 1st and 2nd graders were investigating a question"Are parks for plants, animals, or people?" in anticipation of creating a park of their own. In the lower school, students go on one expedition each week; middle school students go on fewer, but some of their trips are overnight.
Many teachers come from the city's Teaching Fellows program, which places college graduates and mid-career professionals in high-need schools. Principal Sara Belcher-Barnes said the school has had a "high success rate" with these young faculty members, and we spoke to many teachers who were clearly excited about going beyond what is required. Their hard work translates into high-quality instruction. We saw 4th graders enraptured by the stories told by a visiting Red Hook historian and 8th graders who had embarked on a long study of power that included looks at agribusiness, history, and literature.
Both the middle and high school fill a gap in the educational offerings in Red Hook, which, prior to restructuring of PS 27 as a K-12 program, had only elementary schools. The high school opened in 2006 with two 9th grade classes of 25 students, about 60 percent of them came from the building's middle school. Ninth graders we spoke to said they were glad to be at the School for Leadership, but it's too soon to tell how well the high school will achieve administrators' goals of continuing the expeditionary theme. One thing is certain: students will continue to be assigned in-depth projects, such as an investigation of diabetes that occupied the 9th graders for several weeks, meaning their focus will not be on passing Regents exams right away, Belcher-Barnes said. Students are interning at local businesses, and, in the coming years, the school will add specialized math instruction, Spanish classes, and summer programs to focus on Regents performance. Belcher-Barnes said she and her staff opted to become a K-12 school because bringing students to high school graduation is in line with their philosophy of striving to be a "full-service" school.
In the 5th and 6th grades, students rotate through mini-courses in instrumental music, visual art, dance, and drama. In the 7th and 8th grades, students select one discipline to focus on. Class projects often integrate art as well; we saw 1st graders working on an art project using materials found in nearby Coffey Park as part of their investigation of local parks.
Despite the positive energy, the school finds getting parents involved a challenge; while more than 90 percent of parents attend open school night, few participate in monthly workshops. "It's a struggle but we don't give up," the parent coordinator said. The school is eager to develop its science program and make the high school "more democratic" with school-wide assemblies in the coming years, but the most pressing problem will be one of space. Already, some rooms have as many as four activities going on at one time, and the high school does not have nearly enough classrooms to accommodate three more grades. In recent years, the building has been brought up to code with a new roof and a new heating system, but it could still use some technology enhancements. In addition, the gym is too small for high-school athletics.
Space is carved out of cramped classrooms for community services such as peer mediation, counseling, a program for older 8th graders, and academic intervention. It also keeps its doors open year round, with the community organization Good Shepherd running after-school, vacation, and summer programs, as well as an extensive emotional counseling program. About two-thirds of all students stay after school until 6 p.m.
Special education: The school has "self-contained" classes (for students with special needs only), but most special needs students are incorporated into regular classes as part of the school's "inclusion" program.
After school: Good Shepherd runs a program for younger students; older students may participate in activities including basketball, Web design, art, and digital music. (Philissa Cramer, November 2006)