I.S. M286 Renaissance Leadership Academy
MANHATTAN NY 10027 Map
I.S. M286 Renaissance Leadership Academy
Renaissance Leadership used to be a school based on a military model, but in recent years both the name and the tone has changed. The rules-based, rigid atmosphere where teachers yelled and students marched has been replaced by a kinder, gentler sensibility, with adults who are attuned to students' social and emotional needs. Gone are the camouflage uniforms; in are single-gender classes where students are encouraged to express themselves.
Building and location: The school occupies two hallways in a Harlem building that it shares with two other schools: the Academy for Social Action and Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts. Although there are still metal detectors in the entryway, the building's atmosphere has changed dramatically since the building's original school, IS 172, was phased out due to poor performance. Students say that they feel very safe, comfortable and at home in the building. Photographs of students and faculty members hang throughout the hallways.
The school has a state-of-the-art music recording studio with 22 special Mac computer stations plus several soundboards, mixers, and microphones. All students visit the studio twice a week for a class, and students who are particularly interested spend time in the studio after class and during lunch. The school was establishing a student-run record label at the time of our visit.
School environment and culture: Soft-spoken Principal Qadir Dixon took over RLA in 2007. At the time, the school was failing, and Dixon quickly abolished the military theme and added the leadership component. Test scores have since risen and the school is now in good standing with the Department of Education. The school's focus is on "the whole child," says Dixon, who grew up in a violent neighborhood in Brooklyn and who is trained as both an educator and a psychologist. Dixon focuses on the details related to a positive environment, like making sure teachers greet students every morning with a smile. Many of the students have a lot to deal with outside of school, he said, and so their school should be a place where they feel completely comfortable. Dixon makes a point of emailing a handful of students everyday with a compliment or a comment. "He tells you that he is proud of you," one student explained.
Teaching and curriculum: Classes at RLA are divided by gender. "Having just girls or just boys helps kids get their minds on track," one sixth grade girl told us. Both teachers and students we spoke with said they like the single gender classes.
When we visited, the school was in the midst of their "Shooting Stars Week," an annual opportunity for students to focus on elective activities after completing the state English and math exams. In the beginning of the year, students choose an elective that they study twice a week throughout the year and intensively during Shooting Stars Week. Students in the cooking class were using the week to make meals and create a recipe book, students in the recording elective were on a field trip to a professional recording studio, and students in the baseball elective had a clinic in the morning and practice in the afternoon.
After school: The afterschool program is required until 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, although some students stay until 6 p.m. All students are given a hot meal at 3 p.m. before the programs begin. Students are required to take a mix of academic and non-academic after school activities, which include an outdoor club, chess, double-dutch, robotics, cooking, dance, baseball, basketball, track, singing, sound recording, drama, and a math video game, "Dimension M."
Special education: There are two self-contained special education classes with 12 students each. One of the classes has two teachers and the other has one teacher. At the time of our visit, a student from one the self-contained classes had just been accepted to the selective LaGuardia High School, and another had emerged as the most talented student in the school in the recording studio. Students with special education needs who aren't in the self-contained classes receive services early in the morning, so that they don't miss class during the day.
English Language Learners: At the time of our visit, the school had 22 students who were learning English. They are given services both in their classroom and outside of their classroom.
Admissions: Students in District 5 can apply. For the fall of 2008, the school had more than 1,000 applicants for just 30 seats. The administration said that they are looking for students who are motivated and have a particular interest or skill. The application includes a student interview, a parent interview, and an assessment. Students who are accepted must attend the school on Saturdays in May and June to prepare for the start of the following school year. The school accepts transfer students, even in the 8th grade. (Lindsey Whitton Christ, March 2009)