P.S. 123 Suydam
BROOKLYN NY 11237 Map
P.S. 123 Suydam
SEPTEMBER 2006 UPDATE: Veronica Greene, a graduate of the Leadership Academy, a 14-month training program for aspiring principals, became principal of PS 123 at the start of the 2006-07 school year.
FEBRUARY 2005 REVIEW:
Standing at the entrance of the Maria Hernandez Park for more than 100 years, PS 123 looks like a treasured monument. Its long stairway, rust-red bricks, and big windows transform a bleak area of Bushwick into something from another era. This is a traditional American schoolhouse, offering equally traditional teaching.
All students wear white and maroon uniforms, and are rewarded for wearing them by having their class stand-up during an assembly. The school administration sticks to a tight schedule and believes that consistency is important for students. Teachers lead carefully planned lessons in front of the classroom, while students remain seated. During our visit, most children spent time repeating phonics drills, practicing sounds such as "u," "at," "th," and long and short "e." Kids learned phonics using the Internet, listening to tapes, and reading books. They also received phonics instruction for reading Spanish. Kindergartners learn phonics, too, and spend most of their week on academic work, with only Friday allocated for social interaction. "There is no time for play," said the kindergarten teacher.
Many of the children are new immigrants, few have attended a pre-k program, and a large number have parents who are poorly educated themselves. Compared to other New York City children, they are academically delayed, and teachers say they must play academic catch-up, instead of house.
But the hard work has its payoff: test scores are "far above average" for schools with similar demographics, according to the Department of Education's similar schools report, which ranks the city's elementary and middle schools. More than half the children met state standards on standardized reading tests in 2003 and 2004, despite the fact that virtually all are poor enough to qualify for free lunch.
Sadly, some teachers say the school is micro-managed, and the administration leaves little room for teacher recommendations or creativity. "If we stray from the curriculum, then it's like we've fallen off the face of the world," said one teacher. The school has adopted the chancellor's mandated curriculum, which replaces textbooks with children's literature to teach reading and allocates specific times for certain activities using teaching techniques called "balanced literacy." At the same time, there is far more emphasis on phonics than we have seen at a lot of schools.
Class sizes are large. We noticed that students who sat in the back of the classroom looked bored and distracted. In one class, students in the back complained they couldn't see the assignment on the board. The teacher's response: "Just listen." In another class, when the teacher pointed to the little island of Puerto Rico on a globe, the children in the back, again, couldn't see.
At times children did leave their seats to sit on a cozy carpet, where all students were excited about the lesson and quick to participate.
Children receive music, art, and dance instruction, and the school boasts a glee club for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. The school offers a Saturday Academy, between 8:30 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., that provides academic tutoring, sports, and recreational activities, and also serves the children breakfast and lunch.
English as a Second Language: About 300 students are English Language Learners, and half opt for bilingual Spanish/English classes, while the others immerse themselves completely in English classes and are pulled-out of their lessons to receive ESL instruction.
Special education: Three "self-contained" classes -- enroll only students with special needs. They each have 12 students and are overseen by a teacher and an aide. There is also a similarly-staffed bilingual special education class with four students.
After school: The school provides academic tutoring Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, between 3 -5 p.m. (Vanessa Witenko, February 2005)