Preparatory Academy for Writers: A College Board School

143-10 SPRINGFIELD BOULEVARD
QUEENS NY 11413 Map
Phone: (718) 949-8405
Website: Click here
unzoned
Principal: CHARLES ANDERSON
Neighborhood: Springfield Gardens
District: 29
Grade range: 06 thru 12
Parent coordinator: TANYA GILLIARD

What's special:

School back by the College Board nurtures writing.

The downside:

Shared building often means loud, chaotic hallways; small size means fewer electives.

The InsideStats

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Our review

If Preparatory Academy for Writers were a novel, a reader might say the first chapter was full of grand ambition thwarted by human imperfection. Chapter 2, however, has struck a more promising note. This young academy is still a work in progress, but students and teachers now sense what one educator called “a complete 180-degree turnaround” from the school’s stumbling start.

 The positive changes come largely thanks to a new character: Principal Charles Anderson. Before Anderson took over in September 2009, the school “was not functioning as well as it could,” he admits, and it had even lost standing as a College Board school. Anderson, formerly an English teacher, instituted a journalism class, a literary magazine and a fashion magazine and reinforced the idea that Prep Academy is a school for writers. Now, a journal exercise begins every class, even math. (One 6th-grade math teacher told students, “Tell me everything you know about circles.”)

 Prep Academy for Writers (PAW) emphasizes a core curriculum designed to prepare students for college, but Anderson shifted away from a traditional classroom structure. Classes now often break up into small groups of students working in teams on rotating assignments. Talkative classes can appear disorganized, but teachers claim the noise is evidence of energetic discussion, not a lack of discipline and say that more control in the classroom has helped faculty regain students’ respect. [The photo at the left, from the website of the United Federation of Teachers, shows an anti-bullying campaign organized by students and staff.]

 Parents we spoke to liked the school’s new direction and order, and several said educators were accessible. “Whenever I have issues, I can set up a meeting at the drop of a dime,” said the mother of an 8th grader.

 PAW is on the first floor of a large 1960s-era Springfield Gardens Educational Campus with three other small high schools.  All students must go through metal detectors when they enter the building. Students from other high schools loudly pass by PAW’s first-floor classrooms on their way to gym, a chronic irritation that Anderson has been unable to silence.

 Students can join campuswide sports teams and other after-school programs, but Prep Academy’s small size (just 75 students per grade) keeps electives limited. Still, extracurricular and daily “enrichment” courses exist, including an improv comedy class that attracted media attention. Anderson created a student government, including a judiciary branch that settles student disputes or hears disciplinary appeals.

 Students get regular evaluations, and Anderson said faculty are charting student achievement to look for problems. “We’ve built in systems that show actual growth or lack of growth,” Anderson said. PAW’s younger students have responded particularly well to the changes: Anderson said 9th graders have outscored seniors on the PSAT test. Today, PAW’s back as a College Board institution. “It means that we have an expectation that all of our students will be college-ready,” Anderson explained.

 Special education: The school has self-contained special ed classes for 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Ninth grade offers one CCT class, and Anderson said he plans to add more in the upper grades.

 Admission: The school accepts 75 students per grade. Admission is unscreened for both the middle school and high school. Preference is given to District 29 families for admission to 6th grade. Students in the middle school are guaranteed a seat in the high school if they want to stay. In 2010, half the school’s 8th graders stayed for 9th  grade. (Skip Card, February 2011)

 

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