MARCH 2009 UPDATE: The Department of Education announced that IS 399 will begin to phase out in June 2009. IS 399 will not admit an incoming 6th grade, and students currently in grades 6-7 will remain at IS 399 as it phases out by 2011. Current 5th-graders who are zoned for IS 399 will have priority to enroll in one of the two new middle schools, Creston Academy and East Fordham Academy for the Arts, which will open in the building in September 2009.
DECEMBER 2008 UPDATE: The Department of Education has announced that due to poor performance, the school will be phased-out starting in June 2009.
AUGUST 2007 UPDATE: Yolanda Torres has become the Community Superintendent for District 7 and is no longer the school's principal. The new principal is Angelo Ledda, who was formerly an assistant principal at MS 117 in the Bronx. Parent Coordinator Tamara Rosado writes that MS 117's parent coordinator told her that Ledda is "always fair to his staff and students and welcomes parents with open arms. ... He has already met with me and the Parent Association."
JANUARY 2005 REVIEW: When Principal Yolanda Torres assumed leadership of MS 399 in 2002, she had her work cut out for her. Reading and math standardized test scores were chronically so low that the school had been placed on the list of schools that New York State threatened with closure, the Schools Under Registration Review, or SURR, list. The building was dark; graffiti and disrepair were prevalent. Classes often were managed poorly and attendance was low. Torres found herself asking, "How can children learn in this environment? How can people work here?" Prior administrators had obviously asked themselves the same questions, as the school had become a "revolving door" for a series of principals. By all accounts, the school lacked a sense of purpose, community, and consistency.
Torres has committed herself to changing what she calls the "culture" of the school. She reports "cleaning house," that is, she removed numerous teachers unsatisfactory to her and let those who remained know that expectations for classroom management were high. New and experienced teachers participate in significant staff development programs and are monitored closely by Torres and her five assistant principals.
A second priority has been increased safety. In addition to a strong presence by administrators on all floors of the building, school safety officers and volunteer Parents on Patrol, complete with uniforms and walkie-talkies, stroll the halls during classes and assist in supervision of the students during lunch and outside the building. On the morning of our visit, we saw only a handful of children outside the classroom and all were questioned by school personnel about their destinations. One girl without a pass was immediately returned to her classroom, and one particularly disruptive student was escorted out of the building and to his mother's workplace. Most classrooms were orderly and teachers appeared to have the attention of their students.
The building, reportedly once an unwelcoming environment for both students and staff, is clean and bright. Hallway walls are covered with student work, and colorful bulletin boards include numerous displays of student writing that demonstrate the stages of composition, including editing by students' classmates. In an effort to encourage high attendance, the school prominently posts names of students with perfect attendance, as well as attendance figures for the school as a whole. During our visit, there was an especially appealing display of Students of the Week, featuring animated versions of the students acting as superheroes and other powerful, successful figures.
Although standardized test scores have begun to improve, very few children tested at or above grade level in 2003-2004. Given the history of the school, it is perhaps too early to judge the effectiveness of the new initiatives.
The school has a new gifted and talented program and provides courses for 8th graders seeking admission to specialized academic and performing arts high schools.
Special education: There are several "self-contained" classrooms only for students with learning disabilities.
After school: The program features academic enrichment as well as values education, arts, and recreation. The school also operates a Saturday Academy where students receive additional assistance with test-taking strategies.
Admissions: Families should call the school for information on admission to the gifted and talented program. (Melanie Acevedo, January 2005)