J.H.S. 189 Daniel Carter Beard
QUEENS NY 11355 Map
J.H.S. 189 Daniel Carter Beard
At JHS 189 any student who submits a reasonable suggestion for school improvement gets a one-on-one meeting with the principal. That is one of many major changes instituted by Cindy Diaz-Burgos soon after she arrived here in early 2004, installed her Betty Boop doll collection on an office shelf -- "kids need to see it's okay to still like toys," she said -- and took a broom to the school's cobwebs. Less than two months after she came, several staff members and students nominated her for a MetLife Foundation Ambassadors in Education Award that annually recognizes outstanding principals.
Formerly an administrator in Manhattan's progressive District 2, Diaz-Burgos brought with her an untraditional bent that is not universally popular at JHS 189, where some teachers have students stand and recite, while others encourage the group work and hands-on explorations mandated by the uniform citywide curriculum. Diaz-Burgos said she is determined to move the school in the new direction: "I told the teachers, 'The train is going one way. I hope you'll be on it.'"
Though Diaz-Burgos considers school spirit and student empowerment as important as test scores, she has quickly moved to raise the academic bar. Noting that students were leaving for spring vacation without packets of math assignments -- routine at her former school -- she asked teachers to assemble some. "They said the kids wouldn't do it," she recalled. But they did, and "the parents loved it." A new Saturday math academy for struggling students drew more than 100 children a week, and the school plans to add other after-school remediation. Classes mix students of different academic levels, but there are honors classes in math and an active chapter of Arista, a national honors society for outstanding students.
In fall 2004, JHS 189 is to start sharing its white-brick building (a 1959 conception of the future) with Flushing International High School, a new, small high school for recently arrived immigrants. A local YMCA and a Chinese cultural school are to continue to occupy the well-worn facility after hours. The new principal, working hard on cooperation, said the tenants have promised to give the building a much-needed paint job. The rooms could also use Diaz-Burgos's skills as a licensed exterminator (she once studied the trade in order to teach it to adults); we spied a few roaches.
We saw some dreary classes but many impressive ones, particularly in social studies. For a lesson on Lewis and Clark, students traveled from table to table, measuring maps and performing other tasks to discover answers to questions. Eighth graders wrote research papers and mock news articles about women who dressed as men to take part in the Gold Rush. Some classes study instrumental music, but there is no chorus. Diaz-Burgos said she hoped to expand the school's arts offerings.
Nearly one-third (29 percent) of JHS 189 students, including some with little previous formal schooling, are learning English. The school has several Spanish-English and Chinese-English classes and five English-as-a-second-language teachers. We spoke to one who was particularly knowledgeable and showed us her students' cross-cultural comparisons of creation myths.
Many 8th graders leave for high schools. In spring 2004, 32 students won places in the city's specialized high schools for science or the arts. Burgos-Diaz said she encourages students needing academic support to stay for 9th grade, reversing a previous policy that had pushed them out. (Marcia Biederman, May 2004)