I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens
QUEENS NY 11413 Map
I.S. 59 Springfield Gardens
Formerly the crown jewel of District 29's middle schools - with a flourishing arts program and the district's gifted program - IS 59 has suffered from a debilitating lack of continuity in leadership. In one recent four-year period, the school had five different principals, one of whom lasted only a week and a half. The result is a lack of cohesion at the school and uncertainty about the future of its successful music, arts and gifted classes.
In addition to these stresses, in the 2003 - '04 school year IS 59 was required to enroll hundreds of additional students, kids who transferred in under the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This proved a real burden for a school with dipping test scores and a state classification as "in need of improvement." The influx of students contributed significantly to overcrowding, and, according to an active parent volunteer, many of the new children entered "with social problems and disciplinary problems."
Still, IS 59 has a number of things going for it. Its numerous dedicated teachers have established classes that are oases of calm. The building is attractive, with lots of student work and art posted. There are honors classes in every grade. And the new "America's Choice" curriculum emphasizes collaboration and inquiry, along with clearly defined classroom rituals and routines. On our visit, it seemed to be working especially well in English classes. "I've never seen so much reading going on around here," the school's enthusiastic literacy coach told us. The curriculum exposes children to many different kinds of literature and that "really grabs them," she said. We sat in on a 6th grade English class that began with children reading fables aloud before breaking up into small groups to critique one another's work. We also saw a successful high-school level math class, in which a veteran teacher introduced 36 attentive students to an annual math project where they would use creativity to select and explore a math topic.
Another factor working in IS 59's favor is the heavy involvement of parents in the life of the school. Some come in daily to volunteer. The active and well-informed parent coordinator, whose child graduated from the school, organizes parent and student workshops on topics ranging from academics to violence prevention. She also provides tons of information to parents about school and district events.
Not even parent interest, however, can solve problems spawned by overcrowding. There are so many kids at the school that lunch periods begin at 9:45 a.m. By the time we visited the cafeteria shortly after noon, the floor was littered with debris and spilled milk. The room was noisy, and adding to the din were the irritating loudspeaker announcements calling students to the food line one table at a time. Some children sat, quietly resigned, accepting the surrounding tumult. The gym class we saw seemed likewise overcrowded and chaotic. Phones in the main office sometimes go unanswered.
Hallway order suffers, too, Kids run through the corridors between classes and their high jinks don't help matters. On our visit a prankster pulled the fire alarm, and we saw one child swatting the legs of another with his leather belt. As we were speaking to a dean, she was called by a teacher into a classroom where unsupervised kids loitered instead of going to class. Other students roamed the hallways long after the bell had rung.
The school has stopped its practice of auditioning students for entrance into different arts classes - drama, dance, visual arts, chorus and music. Some longtime "talent" teachers continue their fine work, but they lament this lack of screening and are dogged by budget cuts.
There is a plan to try to improve IS 59 by dividing it into four academies organized by size. What this division will mean for the honors and arts classes is unclear. In any case, the school has yet to embark on the official procedure, called a C-30, to select a permanent new principal, and until that happens it will be hard to bring IS 59 back to its former glory.
Top students or those talented in the arts may go on to Cardozo or Bayside high schools; other students typically attend Jamaica or Hillcrest and a handful go on to specialized high schools.
After school: Reading and math help is available to students twice a week in after school and early morning "zero period" sessions. Students with academic or behavior problems are encouraged to attend an extended day "behavior modification" program, called "Agenda 59," introduced with the support of local politicians and community groups. Recreational activities include boys' and girls' basketball teams. (Pamela Wheaton, March 2004)