I.S. 211 John Wilson
Traditionally-structured school that offers lots of extra help
Some students complain of disrespect among students
There are many bright spots at IS 211. Unusual student artwork decorates the lobby, kids update Shakespeare under the guidance of theater professionals, and the school's award-winning math team appeared on a public-access cable TV show produced in the school's own television studio. But discipline problems and class cutting are routine, and the school garnered headlines in a local newspaper, Brooklyn Skyline, for an alleged student assault on a teacher and the firing of a parent coordinator who had criticized the school leadership and held off-site meetings with parents. Though stung by the negative publicity, which she characterized as unfair, Principal Iris Crystal invited us to tour the school. We came on a day when several students were sent home for behavior problems, but others listened attentively to teachers or filed into the lunchroom without much commotion. As the 2003-04 school year drew to a close, IS 211 was planning to restructure into three smaller academies beginning in fall 2004 to give students more personal attention.
Housed in a dingy brick building, IS 211 has litter-strewn hallways with worn linoleum floors and old classroom furniture. But there's a multimillion dollar digital television studio for the school's telecommunications program, less robust than a decade ago, when IS 211 was a magnet school, but still used by some students who produce public-service spots and programs for local networks. Every 6th grader gets a taste of the program in an introductory course.
There is one honors class in each grade for students who qualify for the Region 6 gifted program, called Astral; other classes combine students of various abilities. Teachers have decorated and made cheerful an "academic intervention room," where students struggling with reading get extra help. In one of the school's 14 "self-contained" special education classes, students followed along as a teacher read the Newbery-medal winning Maniac Magee. Elsewhere two teachers trained to work as a team seamlessly instructed an "inclusion" class blending general education and special education students. Not all went smoothly. In a crowded science class taught by an apparently knowledgeable teacher, many heads were on desks, and some students ignored the lesson to chat.
During the two hours we visited, staff members phoned the parents of two students asking that they remove their children for infractions of school rules. A third girl, also ejected, sobbed as she awaited her parents. And a staff member typed an incident report regarding a boy who'd broken a light fixture, causing fragments to rain down and injure someone's eye.
We saw some students walking the halls unsupervised. Interviewed outside the building, two staff members described the school as "out of control." But a guidance counselor noted that IS 211 regularly sends graduates to selective city high schools, and a telecommunications teacher said several former students have careers in television.
Crystal attributed many of the problems to lack of parental involvement and poverty. Many children at the school are in foster care, so "we'll say, we'll call your home,' and it could be their third home in a year," she added. She said the former parent coordinator, whom she has replaced, had acted as a "divisive force." (According to the Brooklyn Skyline, the coordinator said his successful efforts to organize parents angered the administration.) As we toured, flyers invited parents to join a new school leadership team.
In addition to breaking the large school into academies, Crystal said that she hoped to revive a lapsed school uniform policy and that she was seeking funds to reduce class size and institute the America's Choice program, which provides teacher training and instructional methods.
Admissions: Applicants for the school's gifted program, Astral, must apply through Region 6. (Marcia Biederman, May 2004)
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Brooklyn NY 11236