I.S. 61 William A Morris
STATEN ISLAND NY 10301 Map
I.S. 61 William A Morris
The consensus among educators is that middle school is the level most difficult to get right. The challenge increases with a student body as ethnically and economically diverse as IS 61's. But somehow this school, under the experienced leadership of Principal Richard Gallo, seems to have found the formula for making middle school work.
Teachers here truly know their students - especially important for early adolescents. Each grade, housed on its own floor, is matched with a professional sport complete with classes named for professional teams. Floors are divided into three divisions, each consisting of about 150 students and led by a teacher in the group. Each division is divided into five teams. Students form a strong identity with the divisions and teams, and this helps mitigate the impact of large class sizes, averaging about 33 students.
Gallo is also proud that despite the range of ethnic and economic backgrounds they come from, the kids mix well. Our observations confirm this. In a city often divided by race and class, IS 61 stands out as school where children of different backgrounds get along.
The academic program is strong and varied. One teacher showed us interesting work on the charter, laws and social structures of a colony students had created as part of their examination of pre-Revolutionary America. Students in a 6th grade math class we observed worked productively in small groups, converting decimals to fractions and then multiplying. Children build vocabulary through the word for the day announced each morning. The math and literacy coaches are longtime IS 61 teachers enthusiastic about the new programs. The parent coordinator told us that her daughter, who is in an IS 61 6th grade honors class, was tackling material that her son hadn't seen until 8th grade at his parochial school.
A strong magnet arts program, with about 150 students in each grade, focuses on journalism, performing arts and visual arts. Magnet students take all their core courses with the other kids at the school, while, in turn, the non-magnet students are able to take advantage of courses ranging from drama to keyboard. IS 61's arts program culminates in an annual spring theater production drawing an audience from throughout Staten Island.
IS 61 has eight "self-contained" special education classes, as well as teachers to provide special education support services where needed. A Saturday program offers tutoring and English as a second language instruction for both students and parents.
After-school: Thanks to a grant from New York State, a program including sports, arts and tutoring runs until 5:30 p.m. each day.
Admission: Magnet program applicants must take a performance/demonstration test in their interest area and submit recommendations from their school guidance counselors. Students from throughout the borough are eligible, but priority is given to those from the school zone. (This school is featured in New York City's Best Public Middle Schools. Tom Huser, January 2004)