Brownsville Collegiate Charter School

Phone: (718) 636-0370
Website: Click here
Admissions: Lottery. Priority to District 23.
Principal: Jessica Simmons
Neighborhood: Brownsville
District: 23
Grade range: 05 thru 10

What's special:

Stellar math scores on state tests; emphasis on college-readiness

The downside:

Some classrooms lack excitement; highly-structured atmosphere not for everyone

The InsideStats


Our review

Brownsville Collegiate, sharing space at PS 150, is an Uncommon Schools charter, part of a group of elementary and middle schools and a high school. Uncommon Schools share core values and daily practices that emphasize structure, academic rigor (double periods of math and English daily), appropriate “professional and achieving” behavior, and college preparation. All classes are named for their teachers’ alma maters, and students in the 8th grade take an end-of-year trip that includes visits to college campuses.

Uncommon Schools have two school leaders: a principal and a director of operations. At Brownsville Collegiate, NYC-public-school grad and Operations Director Jeannemarie Hendershot partners with Principal Jessica Simmons. Both are Teach for America alums.

Some of the teaching we observed was outstanding, including a history lesson that used a facsimile of an original Civil War document to open a conversation on slavery and the ethics of selling people, and an English lesson that clearly broke down the basic elements of writing a short responsive essay. In one class, the teacher struck a competitive chord, urging children taking notes from a document reader to “Write as fast as I am. Come on, keep up! Stay on your toes, this is easy!”

The school is a highly conditioned, disciplined environment: One pattern of handclaps draws a class's attention; another sequence of finger snaps shows that students are ready for their next task, for example. These cues are modeled by teachers from day one and (most important) practiced in every classroom in the school. The highly codified rules and behavior underpin how students turn a military-sharp about-face (on cue in a single-file hallway lineup) to how teachers manage their students, with repetitive chanting and elaborate handclaps and snaps to show that a teacher’s directions have been heard. Discipline is strict but not highly punitive, with a focus on rewarding good behavior. The school uses the MAPP (mindful, achieving, professional, prepared) system of discipline motivation. Students, who wear neat, conservative uniforms, earn merits and can redeem them for prizes at the “merit store” or earn privileges like dinner with school staff. Academic progress reports students receive every two weeks track discipline merits and demerits.

Many students seemed subdued in classrooms that were largely barren of student-made work or art, books, or other nonessential learning materials, like math manipulatives and art supplies. Most classes are set up in traditional rows, with teachers up at the front delivering the lessons. Most classes have 22 students. Students are grouped based on similar abilities in 5th and 6th grades, Hendershot said, but classes are more mixed in the upper grades. Some students are required to attend after-school tutoring and Saturday school.. Even with the extra help, about 30 percent of the 5th and 6th graders were held back, and about half of the retained 6th graders elected to leave the school rather than repeat the grade, Hendershot said.

A wide range of arts and sports enrichments—from drumming and printmaking to digital urban design, basketball, and step/double dutch—are offered three days a week, for four nine-week sessions each year.

Brownsville Collegiate students go on to Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School, which is limited to students who graduated from 8th grade at Brownsville Collegiate and Bed Stuy Collegiate

Special Education: Three special-ed teachers help support students with IEPs. Some students, who had their IEPs changed in order to attend the school, have elected to leave, but most have stayed since the school first opened, Hendershot said. There are no Collaborative Team Teaching or separate special education classes.

 Admissions: The school admits students via a lottery, with two-thirds of students coming from the immediate neighborhood, including the Seth Low and VanDyke houses. Preference goes to children in District 23. (Helen Zelon, April 2011)

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