P.S. 172 Beacon School of Excellence

825 4 AVENUE
Phone: (718) 965-4200
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school
Noteworthy Special Education
Principal: Jack Spatola
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
District: 15
Grade range: PK thru 05
Parent coordinator: ANNETTE HENDRICKSON

What's special:

High achievement, strong special ed program

The downside:

No gym or library, limited arts classes

The InsideStats



Our review

PS 172 has won citywide attention for the high test scores of its students, many of whom are English-language learners from low-income families. The school also has an innovative special education program that places students with disabilities in classes with all types of children.

Jack Spatola, who has been principal since the mid 1980s, and Assistant Principal Erika Gundersen say there is no single explanation for their students' success, other than hard work. PS 172 emphasizes professional development for teachers and close monitoring of its students, particularly those in danger of faltering.

In addition to integrating all general education and special needs students into the same classes, speech therapy and most other assistance takes place in the classroom. “The child needs that service in real life," Spatola says. This also puts extra adults in the classroom to help all students.

The school uses a workshop model for reading, writing, math and social studies. Students receive a lesson, work on it on their own, and then return to a small group or the full class to discuss what they have done. Aside from dance, arts offerings are limited, and there is no visual art class.

On the day of our visit, we did not see flashy lessons or innovative projects. What we did see were students diligently reading and then writing about what they had read. A first-grade girl displayed a book festooned with Post-Its marking every mention of the characters’ relationships. Another child looked at a simple book about the seasons and prepared to draw a picture inspired by it.

Writing assignments abound and are on display throughout the building. Some are flagged with teachers' notes detailing what is exemplary about that particular work.

The school keeps close watch on struggling students. During the fall, teachers determine which children are lagging or in danger of falling behind and develop a plan to bring those students up to standard. Notebooks track the progress. Parents are kept abreast of the situation and offered concrete suggestions of what they can do to help.

Despite this intense focus on academics, PS 172 has a warm, calm atmosphere. Other than some late students, we saw no discipline problems. Some parents dropped by to talk—in English and Spanish—to Spatola.

One parent, who went to the school herself and has sent her two children there, said it has become less laid back over the years. "Now, it’s focus, focus, focus," she said. But despite that she says the school is "like one big family."

The school has no main library or real gym; half the cafeteria doubles as a gym, the other half as a dance studio. The auditorium has been partly sectioned off to create cubicles for resource teachers.

Most students go on to MS 88, MS 51 and other District 15 middle schools.

An afterschool program aimed at children with working parents is available for a moderate fee. PS 172 also has a pre-K program, with 18 full-time and 18 half-time slots.

Special education: The school offers team teaching in every grade. It has no self-contained classes.

Admission: The school is zoned, and students from the neighborhood take up almost all spaces. The school does admit some students from elsewhere in District 15 but may not know if it has space until September. Seats are awarded on a first come, first serve basis with an eye toward maintaining diversity and not overburdening special ed services. (Gail Robinson, December 2012)


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