Brownsville Collegiate Uncommon Charter School
Brooklyn NY 11212
Stellar math scores on state tests; emphasis on college-readiness
Some classrooms lack excitement; highly-structured atmosphere not for everyone
Brownsville Collegiate, sharing space atPS 150, is an Uncommon Schools charter, part of a group of elementary and middle schools and a high school. Uncommon Schools share core values and daily practices that emphasize structure, academic rigor (double periods of math and English daily), appropriate professional and achieving behavior, and college preparation. All classes are named for their teachers alma maters, and students in the 8th grade take an end-of-year trip that includes visits to college campuses.
Uncommon Schools have two school leaders: a principal and a director of operations. At Brownsville Collegiate, NYC-public-school grad and Operations Director Jeannemarie Hendershot partners with Principal Jessica Simmons. Both are Teach for America alums.
Some of the teaching we observed was outstanding, including a history lesson that used a facsimile of an original Civil War document to open a conversation on slavery and the ethics of selling people, and an English lesson that clearly broke down the basic elements of writing a short responsive essay. In one class, the teacher struck a competitive chord, urging children taking notes from a document reader to Write as fast as I am. Come on, keep up! Stay on your toes, this is easy!
The school is a highly conditioned, disciplinedenvironment: One pattern of handclaps draws a class\'s attention; another sequence offinger snaps shows that students are ready for their next task, for example.These cues aremodeledby teachers from day one and (most important) practicedin every classroom in the school.The highly codified rules and behavior underpin how students turn a military-sharp about-face (on cue in a single-file hallway lineup) to how teachers managetheir students, with repetitive chanting and elaborate handclaps and snaps to show that a teachers directions have been heard. Discipline is strict but not highly punitive, with a focus on rewarding good behavior. The school uses the MAPP (mindful, achieving, professional, prepared) system of discipline motivation. Students, who wear neat, conservative uniforms, earn merits and can redeem them for prizes at the merit store or earn privileges like dinner with school staff. Academic progress reports students receive every two weeks track discipline merits and demerits.
Many students seemed subdued in classrooms that were largely barren of student-made work or art, books, or other nonessential learning materials, like math manipulatives and art supplies. Most classes are set up in traditional rows, with teachers up at the front delivering the lessons. Most classes have 22 students. Students are grouped based on similar abilities in 5th and 6th grades, Hendershot said, but classes are more mixed in the upper grades. Some students are required to attend after-school tutoring and Saturday school.. Even with the extra help, about 30 percent of the 5th and 6th graders were held back, and about half of the retained 6th graders elected to leave the school rather than repeat the grade, Hendershot said.
A wide range of arts and sports enrichmentsfrom drumming and printmaking to digital urban design, basketball, and step/double dutchare offered three days a week, for four nine-week sessions each year.
Special Education: Three special-ed teachers help support students with IEPs. Some students, who had their IEPs changed in order to attend the school, have elected to leave, but most have stayed since the school first opened, Hendershot said. There are no Collaborative Team Teaching or separate special education classes.
Admissions: The school admits students via a lottery, with two-thirds of students coming from the immediate neighborhood, including the Seth Low and VanDyke houses. Preference goes to children in District 23. (Helen Zelon, April 2011)