Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence

Phone: (718) 774-0105
Admissions: Neighborhood school
Principal: Andrea Whitehurst
Neighborhood: Crown Heights
District: 17
Grade range: 0K thru 08
Parent coordinator: DELMIRA HENRY

What's special:

Good attendance

The downside:

Troubled school building

The InsideStats



Our review

During our visit to MS 334, the Middle School for Academic and Social Excellence, we came upon Principal Kathleen Clarke-Glover busily signing a stack of certificates of outstanding attendance. She was clearly proud of the school's above 90 percent attendance rate, an achievement for students in a neighborhood where irregular school attendance often occurs. "We create an environment where they want to come," said Clarke-Glover, whose small school was carved out of the large and very troubled MS 390, which is scheduled to close after graduating its last class in 2007.

The hope is that the needy population of this Crown Heights/Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood will be better served in small schools, and the mission of MS 334, which opened in September 2005, is to "work a lot on the social and emotional child, building trust," Clarke-Glover said. This is achieved, she added, "by [teachers and staff] modeling what we want and asking children to explain why they did something." Clarke-Glover apparently practices what she preaches; when she saw a boy lingering in the hall instead of going to class, she asked him, "What are you doing playing?" "No good reason, Ms. Glover," he conceded.

The school is working hard to get children used to a culture in which calm discussion reigns. "We're getting them to understand that we're not going to yell and scream. We don't yell here," Clarke-Glover said. The task is made easier by the size of school, which is small enough that every teacher knows every child. Through frequent mailings, the administration also strives to keep in touch with families, whether the communication involves progress reports or "notices of concern" when students are tardy or fail to bring in homework. "We have a high postage bill," the principal said.

Small size helps the school as well in its efforts to boost both the academic achievement and the confidence of the many students who begin MS 334 performing at the lowest levels academically. To give them extra encouragement on the day of standardized testing, for example, a school coach cooked breakfast for the students: waffles, sausages, and pancakes. And the principal bought "icies" for everyone after the test, something she would have been unable to do for the roughly 900 students enrolled in MS 390 the year she was principal there.

The school also seeks to leaven academic rigors every few months with weekly mini-courses on subjects ranging from natural disasters to forensic science (with a nod to popular CSI television program). In another hands-on project aimed at engaging students, a parent who owns a photo shop provided a class with 27 disposable cameras. Students took pictures of the neighborhood, meant to reflect their every day lives, and learned how to develop the film at the store. "It was a wonderful experience--the whole process, how they learned about lightness and darkness, and learning to use the machine showed the importance of reading," said a guidance counselor who accompanied them.

Classes are also taken to visit area high schools, including Erasmus and Paul Robeson, to give students an idea of what to expect after middle school.

Given her hopes for her students, it is little surprise that the principal takes a special delight in butterflies, especially the dramatic change they undergo from chrysalis to adult. She has filled her office and the building with photographs, drawings, and actual specimens of the flying insects, saying, "I like the transformation that butterflies make in their lives." She suggested that middle school students make an equally stunning metamorphosis. "In 8th grade," she said, "you fly off into the world all beautiful."

Clearly, she intends for her all her students to make that flight.

After school: All students receive academic tutoring. The school also offers a choir and a technology club.

Special education: At the time of our visit, there was one small class for students with special education needs only. There was also one "collaborative team-teaching" (CTT) arrangement, a two-teacher class in which children with special needs learn alongside others. (Pamela Wheaton, April 2006)

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