AUGUST 2011 UPDATE: KAPPA II is closed after years of poor performance. In 2010-11, the school served only 36 sixth and seventh grade students. Those students went to other District 5 middle schools in fall 2011.
In 2010, only 9 percent of students were on grade level in English language arts (ELA), and only 17 percent were on grade level in math. Community members expressed concerns about students not getting the education they need to be successful in high school and persistently low parental involvement. In February 2011 the Panel for Education Policy approved the DOE’s proposal to close the school due to persistently low performance and an inability to be transformed.
SEPTEMBER 2008 REVIEW: The environment at Kappa II on the late September day we visited was one of the most dysfunctional we have seen. Principal, Sean Dunning, was hired two weeks before the 2008-2009 school year to be the fifth principal in five years, and he was still getting adjusted. He had a vision of what he wanted to do at Kappa II, but as of yet had not had time to put it in place. He spoke of positive incentives, beginning each class with a chant specific to the subject matter being taught, and inviting outside speakers to discuss their experience in middle school.
What we saw, however, were students who didn’t listen to their teachers and roamed the halls. The principal knew very little about the other seven schools in the Kappa network, which he said he planned to visit, or the KIPP network of charter schools, on which Kappa was loosely based. (Kappa stands for Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy. The schools were originally founded with the goal of preparing students for highly selective public and private schools.)
Building and location: Kappa II shares a large Harlem school building with several other schools, including PS 30 and a District 75 school for students with disabilities.
School environment and culture: On our visit, the school was chaotic. One girl had cut a hole in a cardboard box, put it on her head and was walking up and down the hall for about an hour. The principal asked what she was doing and she replied, “walking,” and he laughed and moved on. A boy wandered into the principal’s office and said he had been kicked out of class. The principal told him “go back in,” and gave him a note. He said he planned to do a professional development session with the teachers about classroom management. He asked a girl to spit out gum and another to stop brushing her hair in the hallway, but both girls ignored his requests.
Dunning spent his own money on supplies for the bathroom and food for students, who he said were often hungry. “It is sometimes the little things that matter,” he said. The big things, however, seemed to be missing at Kappa II, like an environment based on respect and discipline that could accommodate teaching and learning.
The students and some of the teachers said that it was an improvement from the environment the previous year, when Dunning’s successor lasted just one year as principal. A veteran teacher said that 75 percent of the faculty were new. “We need more consequences,” she said. “The students know that if they misbehave you are still stuck with them. This is it for me here. I just want to get through this year and then I am done.”
Teaching and curriculum: We didn’t see any inspiring lessons. The only class that we saw working steadily was a self-contained special education class with 12 students.
In art, students were given paper and told to “draw your wildest dreams” with no further instruction, specification, or guidance. On the board outside the art room were similarly underdeveloped drawings under the title “Remembrances of 9/11.”
In another class, the teacher reported that one of his belongings had been stolen, and when the principal told the class that they were going to have to stay after school as punishment, students erupted into shouts and jeers.
In 7th grade, there was one all-girls class and one all-boys class, which the principal said was to help the students concentrate. We saw the girls' section in a math class taught by an earnest first-year teacher. “It’s confusing!” one girl shouted. “Yeah! I don’t get it!” another girl said. A third girl crumpled up her paper and threw it. One of their classmates consistently shouted out the correct answer to every question. At the end of class, the teacher said “If you don’t understand, I will make myself available during lunch and after school. Please come find me.” The students didn’t seem to hear, however, since one of the girls had turned to another and said “I will punch you in the face!” The teacher turned to us and said apologetically, “There is a lot of drama sometimes.”
We witnessed a science class where the teacher spent the whole period screaming for the students to sit down, be quiet, and take out a pen or pencil. We stood outside the class 30 minutes to see what would happen. “Half of them won’t ever listen to her,” a student explained. “We have a test today, but I don’t think we are going to get through it.” The classroom was next to the principal’s office. He eventually went in and told the teacher to stop yelling. “I am just trying to get their attention,” she said quietly. He then went back to his office and the yelling resumed.
Students study Hebrew twice a week for half the year, however, several students said that the atmosphere in the Hebrew class was similar to the science class we witnessed. “They don’t pay attention to the science teacher or the Hebrew teacher,” a girl explained matter-of-factly.
Family participation: The principal said that students are to bring a blue folder home every day with information that should go to their families. He said there had already been several fights that year, and when parents didn’t come in, he went to their homes to talk to them.
Special education: The school has "collaborative team teaching" (CTT) classes in 7th and 8th grade, in which a general education and special education teacher work together. There is also one "self-contained" (special needs students only) class in the 8th grade with 12 students and two teachers.
Admissions: District 5 priority. (Lindsey Whitton Christ - September 2008)