P.S. 217 Colonel David Marcus School
Brooklyn NY 11230
Zone for the 2017-2018 school year. Call school to confirm.
Terrific arts programs, welcoming to all parents
Class sizes can get large
Once called "mini-Pakistan," this part of Brooklyn's Flatbush neighborhood is now a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and incomes, the happy outcome of a wide range of housing options in very close proximity. PS 217 sits at a jaunty angle like a beloved landmark in a small town square, amidst gracious Victorian homes, plain brick co-ops and double-wide duplexes. Hair salons, laundromats, grocery stores and upscale eateries serve a polyglot community that works the entire spectrum of jobs and professions.
The school is large, peaceful and offers an array of arts that allow kids to shine in many ways, whether it's singing the lead in the school musical, playing guitar or sewing a drawstring bag. The school is led by Principal Franca Conti, who keeps a close eye on academic progress and prefers her staffers to dress "in a professional manner," but, in practice, graciously accepts the jeans-wearers, too. Classes are largewe counted up to 29 in one of the upper gradesyet orderly and buzzing with cheerful and curious children.
The arts program is one of the school's finest features and culminates in dance and music festivals, a poetry slam, an art fair and theater performances. Although it is a school that serves many low-income families, it also attracts the children of business professionals who contribute money for the arts. Parents contribute talents by leading clubs on Friday afternoons such as filmmaking, gardening or Arabic. Kids meet in weekly arts clubs in grades 4 and 5 and several collaborate on two yearly theatrical productions such as an adaptation of The Odyssey or a production of The Little Mermaid in full costume.
The school was a pioneer in mixing children who are learning English into general classrooms, with two teachers. There is an "eagle" program for high-achievers, which is not an official city G&T (gifted and talented) program, but one that allows the school more flexibility, the principal said. A child may move into the eagle class as late as 5th grade, for example, which is not a practice in the city's G&T programs.
"We're always kid-watching," said Magnet Coordinator Judy Brandwein. "We want to celebrate every child." This includes dental and eye screening, birthday celebrations and close attention to kids who are struggling academically. "We look really closely at data, especially the bottom third [on state test scores]," and children learning English, said the principal.
In an effort to include more non-native English-speaking parents in classroom activities, the school has tapped parent leaders from each of the largest parent language groups, such as Russian, Arabic, Bengali and Spanish, to serve as translators. These leaders are available one morning a week for translation and to lead craft or learning activities.
The parent who coordinates the program has found that little changes make a big difference in parent involvement. For example, some parents were deterred by a "no strollers inside the building" rule, because they had to wake up their babies to go inside, so the school set out to change the rule. When a Nepali translator invited parents in on Friday mornings, she learned Nepali nail salon workers would miss out on their busiest day of the week, so she switched the day.
At the end of the 2014-15 school year, more than a dozen teachers left for various, classic reasons teachers leave, including retirement, illness, moving closer to home, but also, in some cases, because they weren't up to the principal's standards. "I'm demanding," Conti said matter-of-factly. "Teachers here work very hard." However, she said that she makes a special effort to listen to teachers. Teachers adopted the GoMath curriculum (with adaptations), for example, even though the principal at first preferred the Envision curriculum.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Every grade has a team-teaching class that incorporates children with disabilities. There are two small mixed-age classes for children who need additional help. "Eagle" classroom placement is based on observations, assessments and classroom work.
ADMISSIONS: Zoned, neighborhood school. There are usually some spots for children outside the zone. (Lydie Raschka, April 2016)