I.S. 181 Pablo Casals
Constantly updated website lets parents track grades and assignments online.
Special education students are not making sufficient gains.
MS 181, the Pablo Casals School, is a well-functioning middle school in the north Bronx that has a track record of preserving the forward momentum of motivated students. Since he became principal in 2006, Chris Warnock has been refining the school's structure in an effort to reward academic success, meet students' individual needs and connect parents to the classroom through online technology.
Most classrooms have a no-nonsense atmosphere, and teachers seemed serious about maintaining classroom discipline. Students who arrive at Pablo Casals by way of a gifted and talented curriculum in elementary school will find a middle school ready to maintain an accelerated pace toward early Regents exams. MS 181 students who did not take early G&T courses but who blossom academically in middle school can shift onto this advanced track. Warnock admits his school struggles to fully serve students who need remedial help, but in 2011, the school received a $210,000 technology grant from the city designed to improve the special education courses.
MS 181 is one of several schools built in the 1970s within a collective campus dominated by Harry S Truman High School. The schools sit on the edge of Co-op City, a 15,372-unit development of co-operative housing built where Interstate 95 cuts through the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx. MS 181 connects to Truman via a tunnel, and the middle school students use the high school's auditorium, gym and outdoor athletic fields. The middle school building's third floor is largely taken up by PS 176, a District 75 school serving children with severe autism and related disabilities.
MS 181 is proud of its online communication system. Using the city Department of Education web portal, parents can get access to teachers' individual websites, which are updated almost daily. On these sites, parents and students can find homework assignments, take practice quizzes, watch helpful tutorial videos and even download textbooks. "So going home and saying, 'Mommy, I have no homework' can't be done," Warnock said. Parents also can track the grades their child earn on class assignments. The set-up offers a current snapshot of a student's progress and eliminates end-of-the-year surprises when final grades are issued. " 'Why wasn't I informed?' is out the window," Warnock said. "I don't get that anymore."
Warnock also is proud of his school's "zero period," a flexible portion of the school day that allows students to rotate to the classrooms of specific instructors for specialized instruction, ranging from remedial intervention to Regents prep. He said the school also makes special efforts to celebrate and reward successes such as perfect attendance, excellent citizenship and good grades. Students who reach these benchmarks get invited to monthly after-school parties. The parties appear to be good motivators: 422 students qualified for such a party in autumn 2011, up from just 45 at the first party in 2008. In past years, the school's top 20 students have been invited to the White House Easter egg roll.
Special education: MS 181 students who qualify for special education are often taught in self-contained classrooms where the tone is noticeably less enthusiastic than elsewhere in the school. Special ed students also get individual help through SETSS or are mixed with the general student population in ICT classes that feature two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education. Warnock admits his special education students are not making the types of advances he would like to see. "We have not really been bridging that gap," he said.
Admissions: MS 181 is a neighborhood zoned school. The G&T program is open to students in District 11 who score a minimum combined 1,408 on the 4th-grade state math and literacy tests and who have a minimum 90 percent attendance. Qualified applicants typically exceed available seats, and the final admissions decisions are made by the Department of Education, not the school. (Skip Card, November, 2011.)
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Bronx NY 10475