P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson
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An unusually calm atmosphere pervades the building
Some upper grade classes are a bit cramped
PS 9 is an unusually quiet and orderly school, with little of the restlessness and chatter that often override classroom decorum. Teachers have clear expectations and children seem happy to follow the classroom routines. It has demanding academics, creative arts and an active Parents Association.
The teaching is a bit more traditional than at some other Upper West Side schools, with more emphasis on skills like handwriting and spelling and consistent units across all classes. Although there are blocks and dress-up corners in kindergarten, there is a focus on academics and early reading skills rather than play. For example, in diagrams for a unit on penguins, kindergartners spelled words like "beak" and "flipper" correctly.
At the same time, children go outside for recess every day, and there is room to explore music, art and dance. Classrooms clearly have personalities and creativity is valued; one 5th-grade class named all their group tables after Hogwarts dormitories, while a kindergarten class had a cache of bright ukuleles they are learning to play, inspired by their guitar-loving teacher. Children's artwork covers the walls; 5th-graders learn square dancing and younger children work with the visiting teachers from the New York City Ballet. Essays posted on the walls show both creativity and caresuch as 3rd-graders' letters imagining they were Civil War soldiers orimmigrants to Ellis Island.
Social studies projects bring history to life. Children made their own documentaries about the age of exploration, learning about Christopher Columbus or Giovanni da Verrazano while mastering the art of video editing on shiny new Macintosh computers. As part of their study of American history, 4th and 5th graders go on trips to historical sitesoutside the city.
Even recess is orderly: Children line up on the playground to listen to instructions from school aides before they are permitted to play. Still, maintaining calm doesn't come at the expense of caring; when a boy with a history of behavioral issues had a tantrum during our visit, administrators and teachers swiftly and sweetly helped him work through his feelings outside the room and within minutes he was back inside participating with his friends. Parents are welcome to volunteer, but must undergo training by the Learning Leaders organization that includes a background check.
In 2015, Katherine Witzke, the former assistant principal, replaced Diane Brady, who had been principal since 1997. Parents we spoke to outside the school gushed about Witzke. "She's very approachable and has really improved communication with parents," one mom told us. Enrollment has grown by more than 50 percent in the past decade, a sign of the school's increasing popularity. Class size ranges from 25 in kindergarten to 30 in 5th grade, and a few classes feel a bit cramped.
The Parents Association raises a significant amount of money for extras like assistant teachers in all classrooms, and for chess, Spanish, class trips, art and music programs. They also installed tennis balls on the bottoms of all classroom chair legs to avoid those distracting screeches.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school works to ensure that academic problems are identified and corrected early. For example, all teachers in grades k-2 have been trained in Orton-Gillingham, a multisensory approach to reading that has been successful with children with dyslexia. The school serves a range of children with special needs, including those with significant disabilities who would normally be assigned to segregated or "self-contained" classes. Instead, Witzke assigns these children to ICT team-teaching classes in which a special education teacher and a general education teacher work together in the same classroom. The school offers speech, occupational and physical therapy. It is not wheelchair accessible.
ADMISSIONS:Zoned neighborhood school. Tours are held in December and January. (Aimee Sabo, June 2016)Read more