P.S. 261 Philip Livingston

Phone: (718) 330-9275
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill/ Cobble Hill
District: 15
Grade range: 0K thru 07
Parent coordinator: GERALD PIPER

What's special:

Strong arts; emphasis on students becoming engaged citizens.

The downside:

Decreasing number of slots for families outside the zone.

The Inside Stats



Our review

PS 261 encourages students to think critically about social issues, makes a priority of the arts and has an active and enthusiastic parent body. As its Boerum Heights neighborhood becomes increasingly upscale, the administration is striving to make sure its student body remains economically and ethnically diverse.

Children at PS 261 call teachers by their first names because "that's our community," said assistant principal Sara Cookingham. "We pride ourselves in the arts and having students be involved in being good citizens,” she added.

On the day of our visit, upper grades had spent part of the morning at Brooklyn Borough Hall, reenacting Dr. Martin Luther King's march on Washington. As part of the lesson, students had studied the civil rights movement and Occupy Wall Street. Fourth graders studying time lines had mapped out the civil right's leaders life. The march "honors the tradition of the school and always works in well" with other projects, such as the focus on timelines in 4th grade, a teacher said.

PS 261 has two art and two music teachers. Third and 4th graders attend dress rehearsals at the Metropolitan Opera. Third graders study symphonic music and learn to play the recorder, culminating in a trip to Carnegie Hall where they perform with an orchestra. Overall, said one of the music teachers, the kids "get a quality music education."

The school's math program has had problems, resulting in a drop in state exam scores in 2011. Principal Zipporiah Mills attributed some of the difficulty to a change in curriculum. She hopes that as everyone becomes more comfortable with the new program, scores will improve. They also plan to provide more help to English language learners -- a growing part of the school's population -- and special ed students.

The school has many fans. "I could not get over the teachers here," said one parent who became a teacher at the school after her daughter went there. "I think it's a fabulous school as a parent and teacher." Assistant principal Jackie Allen Joseph's two children attended the school, and now her granddaughter does as well.

After a visit, parent Rebecca Carroll wrote, "The kids were loud and attentive and easy with themselves and each other. … Students ranged in hue, and the halls smelled of construction paper. It felt alive and real, and -- however delusional -- like the New York City I had imagined for my own child to grow up in."

Parents looking for a more traditional approach to discipline and learning, however, may be less comfortable at the school.

Families who do not live in the zone find it increasingly hard to enroll their children in PS 261, students in the area fill most of the incoming classes. When there is a slot for a student living outside the zone, PS 261 selects with an eye toward maintaining its diversity.

Strong parental involvement and partnerships with other organizations enrich PS 261's offerings. When staff thought recess could get a little bit out of hand, the PTA provided money to hire a recess coach. NYCares volunteers enable 261 to offer an alternative for kids who may have difficulty with -- or not enjoy -- outside recess, as well as robotics and math games.

PS 261 attracts a large number of special education students and has several offerings, including self--contained classes, which take students from outside the zone, and collaborative team teaching classes. It also participates in a program when two students per grade from a nearby district 75 school, accompanied by a paraprofessional, attend regular classes at PS 261.

After leaving PS 261, most students stay in District 15, attending schools such as MS 447, 51 and 88. (Gail Robinson, January 2012)

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