M.S. 256 Academic & Athletic Excellence

Grades 6-8
Staff Pick
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What’s Special

French dual language program; caring principal

The Downside

Test scores and attendance have a ways to go

Our Review

A French dual language program, and a kindhearted leader with fresh ideas, has brought more students, increased diversity, and a fresh start to MS 256. Despite its tiny size, it had long been considered the unruliest sibling in a building shared with the hugely popular Manhattan School for Children and the Community Action School. Now, the atmosphere is safe and calm. The principal is committed to his position and students are eager for new academic challenges.

MS 256 is one of very few middle schools in the city offering a French dual language program and it enrolls students who are already fluent in the language. There is one dual language class per grade, with a mix of children from West Africa, Canada, Belgium, France and elsewhere. Lessons are taught in French in language arts and social studies; children study math in both languages starting in 8th grade. 

Parents from nearby PS 84 lobbied for the program and MS 256 draws mainly from that school and the French American Charter School for its dual language classes.

Principal Brian Zager worked as assistant principal of the now-closed CASTLE middle school on the Lower East Side. A history and sports buff, he does not speak French himself but promised his first French language graduating class of 2017 that he would learn enough to speak a few words at their graduation.

Students and families have responded favorably to Zager, who has fostered community with "spirit days" on themes like "wacky tacky," "business dress-up" and "twin day." He led teachers in revamping the curriculum, with the inclusion of a daily 30-minute independent reading time, during which teachers split classes into small groups by gender, based on research he read that showed children perform better in reading when they are grouped that way. 

English language arts teachers tackle meaty, relevant content in all classes, such as a discussion of gun violence we saw, that took place in a formal debate called a Socratic circle, and reading news articles on current events related to immigration. For high-achievers, there is a small and growing algebra class for students who meet certain criteria in math.

MS 256 is part of the Middle School Quality Initiative, a citywide effort to boost achievement in low-performing schools, with a focus on improving reading. Teachers plan together to reinforce vocabulary, reading, debate and writing skills across all subjects in a cohesive way.

Efforts have yet to pay off completely. On school surveys, more than half the students reported that teachers do not challenge them. And too many children are frequently absent. The school is tiny so even a few absences affect attendance, the principal said. He provides incentives and has a program in place to improve attendance. Student-led parent-teacher conferences resulted in "the best participation we've ever had," Zager said, and incidents of unruly behavior are at an all-time low.

With the dual language addition, the school is becoming increasingly diverse in every way—ethnically, economically and academically. It is "a model for the integration that the [Department of Education] is striving to achieve," a parent wrote on our website. Test scores are inching up but still have a ways to go. It's a school worth watching.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes, which mix children with disabilities and their general ed peers in one classroom, with two teachers.

ADMISSIONS: Children apply to MS 256 as part of the District 3 middle school choice process. One of three incoming 6th grade classes is reserved for French language speakers. Starting fall 2017, students will be screened based on an interview, attendance, a teacher reference and, to a lesser extent, grades. A few children have been admitted from out of district in recent years, mostly into the dual language program. (Lydie Raschka, December 2016)

About the students

Enrollment
149
Asian
0.7%
Black
53.7%
Hispanic
32.9%
White
10.7%
Other
2.0%
Free or reduced priced lunch
72%
Students with disabilities
23%
English language learners
20%

About the school

Shared campus?
Yes
This school shares a building with MS 258 and PS 333
Uniforms required?
Yes
Metal detectors?
No
How crowded? (Full is 100%)
107%
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Attendance

Average daily attendance
90%
93% Citywide Average
How many students are chronically absent?
37%
20% Citywide Average

Is this school safe?

How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained at this school?
100%
77% Citywide Average
How many students think bullying happens most or all of the time at this school?
28%
28% Citywide Average
How many students say they feel safe in the hallways, bathrooms and locker rooms?
89%
82% Citywide Average
How many students say most students treat each other with respect?
39%
43% Citywide Average

About the leadership

Years of principal experience at this school
2.0
6.0 Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
100%
82% Citywide Average
How many teachers say the principal has a clear vision for this school?
100%
88% Citywide Average
How many teachers trust the principal?
100%
82% Citywide Average

About the teachers

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
64%
72% Citywide Average
Teacher attendance
96%
96% Citywide Average
How many teachers say they would recommend this school to other families?
94%
81% Citywide Average
How many teachers think the staff collaborate to make this school run effectively?
100%
86% Citywide Average
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Test scores

How many students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
13%
27% Citywide Average
How many students scored 3-4 on the state ELA exam?
16%
30% Citywide Average

Arts offerings

This school has 2 dedicated spaces for Visual arts and an Auditorium
This school has 2 licensed arts teachers in Dance (part-time) and Visual arts (part-time)

Engaging curriculum?

How many students say this school offers enough programs, classes and activities to keep them interested?
75%
75% Citywide Average
How many students say they are challenged in most or all of their classes?
47%
56% Citywide Average
How many students say the programs, classes and activities here encourage them to develop talent outside academics?
72%
72% Citywide Average

Are students prepared for high school?

How many 8th graders earn high school credit?
10%
26% Citywide Average
How many graduates of this school pass all their classes in 9th grade?
78%
84% Citywide Average
What high schools do most graduates attend?
The HS of Fashion Industries
Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

How does this school serve English Language Learners?

This school offers Dual Language classes in French.
How many English language learners score 3-4 on the State ELA exam?
5%
5% Citywide Average
How many former English language learners score 3-4 on the State ELA exam?
0%
14% Citywide Average

How does this school serve students with disabilities?

This school offers self-contained classes
This school offers team teaching (ICT)
Average math score for ICT students
1.87
1.9 Citywide Average
Average math score for self-contained students
2.09
2.1 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for ICT students
1.93
1.9 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for self-contained students
2.12
2.2 Citywide Average
Average math score for SETSS students
2.18
2.3 Citywide Average
Average ELA score for SETSS students
2.25
2.3 Citywide Average
How many students say that students with disabilities are included in all activities?
78%
67% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school offers enough activities and services for their children's needs?
63%
88% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say this school works to achive the goals of their students' IEPs?
100%
91% Citywide Average
How many parents of students with disabilities say they are satisfied with the IEP development process at this school?
100%
90% Citywide Average
For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data
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