I.S. 136 Charles O. Dewey
BROOKLYN NY 11232 Map
I.S. 136 Charles O. Dewey
MAY 2011 UPDATE: IS 136 is one of twenty-two schools that will receive Small Improvement Grant funding of up to $2 million to implement the “Restart” intervention model. Each “Restart” school will be matched to a non-profit educational partner organization that will work closely with the principal and school community to implement a targeted improvement plan aimed at strengthening the curriculum, developing academic supports for students, and helping teachers improve practice. These schools will remain open and a new class of students will be admitted next year.
JANUARY 2008 REVIEW: Once a rowdy place, at IS 136 calm and order now prevail. Its large, clean, bright halls brim with student artwork and essays, and its dedicated teachers are making strides with the largely Latino student population from Sunset Park.
The catalyst for reform was Eric Sackler, a former assistant principal at the school, who scrapped the almost-in-motion plan for splitting the school into three academies, fearing it would be divisive. "We wanted to bring unity," he said.
Discipline was the first problem Sackler tackled when he became principal in March 2007. His philosophy is simple: "I treat them like I treat my kids at home," he said. "You show them respect and love and they show it back." He personally screens student applications to weed out severe discipline problems, and invited members of a police task force to talk to kids about the dangers of joining a gang. Teachers and kids told us there they see far fewer fights than in previous years. For the first half of the 2007-2008 school year, only five kids were suspended, a significant drop from a few years earlier when more than 90 students were suspended during one school year.
The century-old building boasts a formal auditorium, a large gym, and an airy computer lab with rows of shiny white Mac computers that, on the day of our visit, buzzed with happy kids working independently. A young, energetic technology teacher helped students create PowerPoint presentations, set to music with downloaded MP3 files. He also created a student literary magazine and blog.
Some teachers use traditional methods with good results: We observed an all-girls science class where students intently examined fossils and rocks, and a lively social studies discussion about India's caste system. Other teachers, however, seemed to rely too heavily on textbooks, like a bilingual class translating a story from an 8th grade Spanish textbook. One young special education teacher struggled to keep her students engaged during a dull review session, having to walk from desk to desk to make sure kids were doing their work. To bolster the quality of instruction for all students, Sackler hired several new teachers licensed in their subject areas, such as math and science.
Students get two art classes each week, and projects included beautiful wood and plaster sculptures and colorful self-portrait busts. A very creative art teacher helped kids construct a model roller coaster that won second place in a competition at Six Flags Great Adventure amusement park in New Jersey.
Though low reading test scores kept IS 136 on the state's list of schools in need of improvement for 2007, it earned a B on the city's progress report and extra credit for progress with students learning to speak English. Overall, math and reading scores jumped 10 to 15 percent in 2006-2007, though with only 22 percent meeting standards in English and 36 percent in math, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
The school benefits from a partnership with Life Lines Community Arts Project, which is run by the nearby Center for Family Life social service agency and has offices in the building. Artists and social workers come into the classrooms to help integrate arts projects into academic subjects and run an after-school program that includes dance in a large mirrored studio.
Most of the school's families are poor and many are in transition. On the day we visited, Sackler had tracked down a student missing for a month because she'd returned to her home country. He helped her and her mother resettle in an uncle's Brooklyn apartment. Such problems are typical, he said.
Despite the obstacles, parent events draw between 30 and 100 parents, said Sackler, who is working to rebuild the PTA. Families can also get free English and computer instruction at the school on Saturdays, with about 20 participating. Kids get free dental and vision screenings and treatment.
The school makes good use of federal anti-poverty money, paying not only for take-home workbooks, but for Broadway shows and dance performances. One hundred kids whose combination of grades, punctuality and attendance landed them on the honor roll, were taken to see "The Nutcracker" ballet. Sackler also plans to take a small group of kids on an ecology trip to Costa Rica using other funds.
The school shares space with Sunset Park Prep, a small, selective middle school housed on the top floor of the building.
Special Education: The school has four self-contained classes for children with special needs only one in each grade and one multi-grade bilingual class, and offers SETSS (special education teacher support services.) Students in self-contained classes take math and science in general education classes or in small, self-contained groups, depending upon their level of achievement. Children who excel in English and social studies can also take these subjects in general education classes.
English as a second language: Roughly 25 percent of IS 136 students are learning to speak English and a "fair amount" of them receive special education services, according to Sackler. Each grade has a Spanish bilingual class for new immigrants, who come from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Ecuador. More recently, there's been an influx of students from countries such as from Korea, Yemen and Morocco as well
After school: Life Lines runs many of the after school programs, including dance and drama. The school sponsors a runners club and an intra-mural basketball team. Struggling kids get academic intervention services in the mornings and afternoons.
Admission: Applicants must fill out an application. Sackler said he accepts about half of 300 applicants, striving for a balance in academic ability and behavioral issues. Most of its students live in Sunset Park, but a few travel from other parts of Brooklyn. (Nicole LaRosa, January 2008)