M.S. 61 Dr. Gladstone H. Atwell

Phone: (718) 774-1002
Website: Click here
Admissions: neighborhood school/selective program
Wheelchair accessible
Neighborhood: Crown Heights
District: 17
Grade range: 06 thru 08
Parent coordinator: AILENE THOMPSON

What's special:

The school has a successful gifted program and is well regarded by its community.

The downside:

Limited arts and music

The InsideStats



Our review

At 8:15 each morning, students file in to MS 61's back door to the tune of Whitney Houston singing "I believe the children are the future…"

Principal Sandra Taylor, who has been at the school since 2008, says she plays the song not only to boost student morale but also to remind staff that they come to work each day to empower the students. The administration's and staff's commitment to MS 61 students is evident: MS 61 enjoys a solid reputation in the neighborhood and is the last large middle school in district.

Taylor worked for years as a teacher at PS 399, a feeder school for MS 61, then as an assistant principal. MS 61 is a neighborhood school, and Taylor's former students sometimes have children of their own in the school. She is no-nonsense with her middle schoolers. She often patrols the hallways to encourage order. Taylor does not tolerate ear-buds or gum-chewing and all students must wear the required uniforms.

But the principal also has a softer side. She likes to have fun with the kids when appropriate. Her office is teeming with books and open to all students. Taylor even hosts dances and monthly birthday parties for students and teachers and tea parties for the parents. Shaquana, a 6th grader who hopes to be a principal herself someday, called Taylor "the party principal."

MS 61 offers a large number of high school-level Regents courses: Spanish, algebra, US government and history, geometry and living environment. One downside is that there is no regularly scheduled art or music instruction, which Taylor attributes to budget cuts. There is a flourishing after-school program with many options including theatre, dance and arts programs. And, like other large schools, MS 61 students can participate in a variety of after-school sports ranging from boys and girls soccer and basketball teams to fencing and double-dutch.

The school is divided into three academies, each with its own floor. The Britou-Moore Academy for gifted and talented students shines brightly. The quality of work displayed on the walls is impressive and Britou-Moore students were engaged in their classes, polite and eager to learn. Taylor says she has tripled the size of the Britou-Moore Academy to over 500 6th through 8th graders and added accelerated classes to the other two academies.

Students in the Apex and World Leadership Academies were engaged in class but didn't show the same level of enthusiasm as their peers in Britou-Moore. They were generally well behaved, especially in the presence of an authority figure.

All of the school's eighth graders take the specialized high school exam and may also flex their test muscles by taking the SAT. Students who score well on the SAT may qualify to become Johns Hopkins Scholars and treated to special college-readiness programs.

We saw many parents at the school during our tour. The parent coordinator, Ailene Mitchell, helps arrange parent-child book clubs. Though most parents offered praise to the school and administration, one parent complained that teachers were inaccessible, an issue that students also reported in the 2011 Learning Environment Survey. Thirty percent of MS 61 students surveyed said they had issues with respect and with fights and bullying that year. During our tour, we did see minor roughhousing, hear a few raised voices and notice some litter around the school. But, overall, we felt comfortable and welcome at MS 61.

Special education: There are seven collaboratively taught classes and three self-contained classes. Classes for English Language Learners include a Haitian-Creole program and some ELLs are pushed into regular classes.

Admissions: MS 61 is for District 17 students only. The school has three times as many applicants as seats and zoned children get preference. Admission to Britou-Moore Academy based on 4th grade test scores. Contact the school for tour dates. (Anna Schneider, January 2012)

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