I.S. 219 New Venture School
BRONX NY 10456 Map
I.S. 219 New Venture School
After decades of failure and little hope, CIS 219, which replaced IS 148, has been transformed into a calm, caring school on a path toward a more successful future. "The dust has settled and now we are able to get focused," said Dominic Cipollone, who became principal in 2004. The "dust" was a chaotic environment and unsupportive parents who recalled their own miserable days at the school. One measure of improvement is the changing attitude of these parents; more than 70 showed up for a recent parent night.
A teacher for 10 years, Cipollone is a graduate of the Leadership Academy, a city program that trains principals for hard-to-staff schools. After arriving in 2004, he took a number of steps to improve the school. He introduced attendance officers who made home visits, as well as adding an automated service to call the home of every student who fails to appear on any school day. Just as important, Cipollone gave students an incentive to show up and do well; the school now conducts monthly celebrations for kids who not only succeed academically, but show improvement, obey the dress code, and behave well. Cipollone has also greatly reduced the large number of students at the school who are much older than middle-school age. When he arrived, up to 15 percent of the school population fell into that category, with some 8th graders as old as 17. He helped these students find appropriate placements, such as alternative schools or a special program that helps over-age 8th graders graduate and enter high school. Now, only about 10 students are much older than their peers. Another major improvement: the school population has shrunk from 1,400 to about 550.
On the day of our visit, we saw students wearing uniforms of navy-blue polo shirts and khaki pants as they sat in class, and noticed that their conversation with adults was courteous. In one 6th grade English class, a gifted teacher inspired her students to think more deeply and develop their thoughts. "See how far your imagination goes when you bring a character alive," she said, cheering her class on as it tackled reading a class book and understanding the characters. Her students were quick to answer and ask questions, and their lengthy essays were filled with details--as well as proper grammar and punctuation.
We didn't see such strong teaching everywhere, however. Some faculty members were unable to keep their students focused; their lectures were uninspiring and disorganized, and students responded by sleeping, chatting, or staring into the wall or out the window. Their essays lacked proper punctuation, little detail, and were shorter than those written by the class with the stronger teacher.
The classroom environment also varied. Some classes were clean, organized, and filled with colorful posters and student work. Others were messy: clutter piled into a corner, graffiti-covered shelves, litter on the floor, and bare walls.
Now that the school is orderly, Cipollone says he can begin working more on what goes on in the classroom. Struggling teachers can work with a lead teacher, an expert in their subject field who teaches part-time, spending the rest of the day guiding other faculty members. A literacy and a math coach also help teachers. The school is, as well, putting into place more services for students who are struggling. Read 180, a literacy program, will be available to 60 students, divided into groups of 15 working 90 minutes every day. The school has also received stacks of new books to expand its libraries.
The school holds quarterly school dances and overnight trips during the spring semester.
After school: Affiliated with a number of programs that provide activities for young people, including the wide-ranging Beacon program, the school every day offers numerous activities, including tutoring and photojournalism, tennis, basketball, and art. There is also a Saturday morning program mixing tutoring and sports, such as tennis and fencing. (Vanessa Witenko, September 2006)