I.S. 211 John Wilson
BROOKLYN NY 11236 Map
I.S. 211 John Wilson
A strong focus on discipline, and an emphasis on improving test scores, characterizes IS 211 which serves a largely Caribbean-West Indian population in Canarsie.
Building and location: IS 211's stolid school building anchors its Canarsie block; inside, hallways, and classes are clean and brightly color-coded in accord with the school's three academies. Student and teacher-designed murals enliven hallways, which also feature a wide variety of other student work. Classes are small, due in part to the principal's commitment to them as well as to a school population that has been declining.
School environment and culture: When Principal Buffie Simmons-Peart came to IS 211 in 2005 students confronted her and asked who she was. Learning she was the new principal, one boy laughed and said, "Sorry, miss - the kids run the school." That may have been true - back then, teachers stayed safe behind closed classroom doors as students roamed the halls, said Assistant Principal Dorothea Crawford, but it's changed since Simmons-Peart took charge. The school has also been removed from the state's list of schools that need improvement. "Now, we are a receiving school instead of a sending school for NCLB [No Child Left Behind] kids," says Simmons-Peart, who was honored with a prestigious Cahn fellowship, awarded to outstanding principals, in 2008.
The economic diversity in the neighborhood - some students live in housing projects, others in neat single or two-family homes - means that some kids have more exposure to museums, culture, and the world beyond the block and the neighborhood, said Simmons-Peart. All students must complete community service credits to graduate, which is part of the school's strategy to bring its students new experiences.
A blend of decorum, energy, and enthusiasm pervades the hallways now, and if the school keeps a strong focus on test prep, its straight-A 2008 progress report shows the results. The school's no-nonsense environment brooks little misbehavior, and for the most part, students respond with focus and discipline. "I have four children," said Simmons-Peart. "How can I make this place someplace I'd like them to attend?"
Teaching and curriculum: The school is divided into three academies (Communication Arts, Cultural Arts, and Business); each has its own floor and offers a range of classes designed to meet the needs of students at different academic levels.
"The Academy becomes a family within the school," said Assistant Principal Crawford, on staff at IS 211 since 2000.
Unlike many schools, which group students of mixed abilities, IS 211 students are placed with students of comparable academic achievement - and students seem very much aware of the hierarchy. The classes for gifted students appear to have a richer classroom environment and more interesting projects on display. Each grade has two gifted classes; entry is either by test, for the district's gifted program called Astral, or invitation, based on 5th grade performance. All incoming 6th graders are assessed during the school's summer Bridge program, which eases the transition into middle school.
Simmons-Peart and her staff focus on college early to build both ambition and awareness among students and their families. Small groups of 7th and 8th graders go on college tours and learn the importance of college essays, good grades, and teacher recommendations. "We want to make sure there are positive role models," says Simmons-Peart, who keeps the school open on Saturdays - and on Sundays during testing season - "so kids can come to school no matter what."
Teaching focuses heavily on traditional methods and test readiness; collaboration and planning takes place at weekly department meetings, where mainstream, Collaborative Team Teaching and special education teachers confer with subject coaches to assess prior work and develop content. Students, who once roamed the halls tearing down bulletin boards, now come to school with late notes from their parents, Crawford said. "We tolerate nothing," she said. "You want to be a hoodlum? This is not the place for you. This is a place of learning."
Family participation: It is difficult to get parents involved, says Simmons-Peart, given their demanding work schedules and outside obligations, but workshops, home visits, and events like coat drives and Dress for Success days help to engage the community. Simmons-Peart says the school also encourages parents to complete their own education. She tells parents, "The only equalizer is education. If you need an associate's degree or a BA, come to us, we'll find a way to help you."
Afterschool: Clubs for dance, science and ecology, sports, leadership, and martial arts are offered after school, along with Kaplan and Princeton Review test prep and pre-Regents test prep for students taking Regents exams in June. Saturday Academy runs year-round and draws between 200 and 240 of the school's 767 students; about 120 come to its Sunday classes, which focus on the standardized state tests.
Special education: In addition to the three CTT classes, there are nine self-contained classes, largely separate from the other classrooms. While some are cozy and nurturing, if cramped, others have students doing busy work - such as gluing together a religious parable around St. Patrick's Day - that is out of place in a public school. One administrator referred repeatedly to the "MR"[mentally retarded] classes, an outdated, incorrect designation.
English language learners: Very few students require formal English language instruction.
Admissions: Zoned middle school; students in the selective Astral program apply and are assigned though the district office.
After graduation: Most graduates attend nearby high schools including Madison or the new smaller schools in the Canarsie High School building. A few go to specialized schools. Many students are latchkey kids, according to the principal, and have family responsibilities that make it hard to travel to other boroughs for high school. In addition, she says, most parents in the predominantly Caribbean-West Indian community prefer their children to attend schools closer to home. (Helen Zelon, March 2009)