P.S. 20 Clinton Hill
Brooklyn NY 11205
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
French dual language, robust after-school, band
Uneven instruction, particularly in math
PS 20 strives to meet the needs of children living in public housing developments alongside those living in brownstones and pretty wooden houses in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods. The school has struggled with declining enrollment as it faces competition from private schools, charters and other district public schools. But it is beginning to stabilize; reasons include a popular French dual language program, enticing pre-kindergarten classes and robust after-school choices, even for the youngest kids. Active parents make a difference here, bringing fresh ideas and talents, which are embraced by the administration.
Additional strengths include a school band, musical theater and an urban agriculture program called PS 20 Farms that was founded by parents. The hallways are decorated with children's spidery still-life plant drawings based on the sprouts growing in the science lab. In warm weather, children plant seeds in the planters outside the school and then harvest and sample the bounty.
Upbeat principal Lena Barbera has expanded project-based learning and the arts, as she did in her previous job as assistant principal at popular PS 261. In 2010 she polled her teachers to discover new talents and found a teacher of vocal music and a French teacher among them. As a result, even children not enrolled in dual language get a chance to study French in a "cluster" class.
Teachers in dual language were expressive and engaging on our visit, and in an upper-grade, non-dual language classroom, children were interested as they discussed a biography of environmentalist Rachel Carson. A few students mentioned an experiment in science class, in which they had tried different solutions to clean oil off bird feathers, as after an oil spill. Yet instruction was uneven. In a couple of classes, teachers spoke unnaturally loud, and in an overly warm classroom, kids looked sleepy as they watched a lesson on a SMART Board, with the lights off, one child with his head on his arms.
The school generates strong opinions on a Fort Greene listserv, from those extolling its ethnic and economic diversity to those who fret over bad student language and behavior. On school surveys, most teachers say order and discipline are maintained and they overwhelmingly support the principal. Test scores are disappointing in math, but the school's yearly plan shows teachers are trying to provide a stronger foundation in the lower grades by strengthening daily math routines.
The building is shared with Academy of Arts and Letters, which spans kindergarten through 8th grade. PS 20 occupies the first floor and part of the second, and the schools share common spaces. The cafeteria is sun-lit but small; the resulting scheduling crunch means that kindergartners must eat lunch at 10:30 am.
Dual language classrooms are ideally an even 50-50 split between native English and native French speakers, some of them children of African and Haitian immigrants, and some from France. In the first year of its program (2013), PS 20 had only three French-speaking children in dual language out of about 20 students; the second year it had about six. The principal said interest in the program has been growing each year.
The school offers rare pre-kindergarten after-school hours through Kaleidoscope Early Childhood Development Center. The Boys and Girls Club offers after-school programming, costing only $5 per student for the whole school year. Children can also learn piano after school. The two schools both participate. "You should see this school after 3 pm," said Barbera. "There are kids everywhere."
Special education: Self-contained classes are phasing out as kids are incorporated into ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes. In some of these team-taught classes, however, there are not enough kids to justify the hiring of two full-time teachers. A roving SETSS (special education teacher support services) teacher helps out as needed.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. Native French-speakers get priority in admissions to the dual language program. (Lydie Raschka, February 2015)