P.S. 243k The Weeksville School
BROOKLYN NY 11213 Map
P.S. 243k The Weeksville School
PS 243, the Weeksville School, is located in and named after a landmark district founded by free Blacks in the 19th century. Students in this low-income community need a great deal of help academically and socially, and the tight-knit staff at the school is ready and willing to provide it.
Gabrielle Thomas became principal in 1998, the year the school was placed in the now- defunct Chancellor's district, which oversaw the city's most troubled schools. This followed years of the school's being on the state list of schools threatened with closure if they don't improve, the Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) list. The additional resources provided by being a chancellor's district school at the time paid off, and the school was removed from the SURR list during the 2000-2001 school year. But Thomas also credits her staff's attitude for the turnaround. "I came at the right time," said Thomas, who is both warm and enthusiastic. "The school was ready for a change. I wanted to eliminate the phrase 'educational failure' from our vocabularies."
While test scores still lag behind citywide averages, most kids we observed seemed engaged and interested in their lessons. Everyone is encouraged to read more. A book-filled basket in the main office suggests waiting students and parents "Read a book while you wait."
Maintaining discipline and safety has challenged the school for years. Staffers said that there had been violent incidents on a regular basis -- fights, gang recruitment, and weapons brought into school, even by 1st graders. Under Thomas, the staff began regular bathroom, hallway, and stairwell sweeps, and raised money to purchase walkie-talkies to communicate quickly across the school.
Today, the school is a far calmer place than it once was. We did observe several kids wandering the hallways without being questioned by adults, and during our visit, one 4th grader having a serious tantrum was brought down to the principal's office. But Thomas kept him nearby, sulking in a rocking chair, until he was calmer and able to talk about what was bothering him.
Thomas seeks to hire at least one male teacher per grade to make sure that troubled kids see both men and women as strong role models. Many children live with grandparents, or in foster families or homeless shelters. Fourth grade teacher Gregory Jackson is considered a gem, a strict yet soothing presence for the kids he takes under his wing. "I love teaching at this school because I'm needed here," said Jackson. "These kids remind me of myself."
There is a similar commitment from many of the teachers at the school. "I've talked to teachers who've left here who tell me they miss it here," said 1st grade teacher Gloria George.
Parent coordinator Norven Anderson-Logan clearly knows most of the school's families well. She can be found most mornings at the entrance as parents come in, "like a carnival barker," according to Thomas. She has turned the parent room from a place to watch soaps into the site for workshops on nutrition, HIV awareness, stress reduction, and the math curriculum. And events like a grandparents' breakfast are attracting more families to drop by the school.
PS 243 faces many challenges, but does not feel like a troubled place. Rather, it is a school where all seem ready to roll up their sleeves to make kids and parents feel a part of the "Weeksville family."
Special education: Each grade, 1 -- 5, has a "self-contained" class only for students with special needs. There are 10 students per class.
After school: Since the late 1980s, the Jackie Robinson Center for Physical Culture has offered math tutoring at the school, as well as classes in martial arts, African drumming, and team handball. Several staffers at the school work in the after-school program. The school is also one of three sites for a district-wide Saturday program that includes a 5th grade prep academy, an intensive academic program. (Carolina GonzÃ¡lez, December 2004)