P.S. 166 The Richard Rodgers School of the Arts and Technology
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Terrific arts and writing programs
No pre-kindergarten program
PS 166 has the most popular district gifted program on the Upper West Side, big song and dance performances, and an active Parents Association that raises a ton of money. Fine examples of children's art and writing are posted on bulletin boards throughout the school. One example: a 10-page guide to the school for prospective parents, written by a 1st-grader.
The beautifully renovated building, constructed in 1897, has high ceilings and bright and sunny classrooms that are lavishly equipped with books and supplies. Children go outside even on cold days, and recess takes place before lunch to encourage children to eat more slowly and to create a calmer transition back to the classroom. The lunchroom is one of the more civilized ones we've seen.
The rich arts programs can be heard and seen throughout the building. On one of our visits, we watched 3rd-grade girls twirl in red skirts as they practiced a Mexican folk dance. In the science lab, children plucked kalimbas, African thumb pianos, to explore pitch and amplification. In the music room children sang a lively spiritual. On another visit, we saw dance and music teachers collaborate to put on a musical production. Children made paintings in the style of Frida Kahloone of a series of lessons designed to teach art history as well as studio art.
Children were engaged in every class we saw. During "center time," kindergartners may choose to play with blocks, write, read or put together plastic cubes that build math skills.
The quality of writing is particularly high and Teachers College Reading and Writing Project works closely with teachers at PS 166. Kindergartners write "personal narratives" that may include New Year's resolutions. ("My resolution is to clean up my toys.") Older children write persuasive essays on topics such as "Should chocolate milk be banned in school?"
Debra Mastriano, who became principal in 2012, has won high marks from district administrators for the rigor of the curriculum. The annual teacher survey, however, gives her mixed reviews for her leadership, and we heard some grumbling that she can be abrupt. She told us that some pushback from staff is inevitable as she steps up demands.
The school was once starkly segregated, with mostly Black and Latino children in general education classes and mostly Whites in gifted and talented. But on our visit, we couldn't easily tell the difference between the classes. That's because more White families from the zone are opting for general education classes, which offer smaller class size than the G&T and the same wonderful art, music and drama that everyone enjoys. The quality of instruction is high throughout the school.
We did speak with one mother who said that Black and Hispanic parents sometimes feel marginalized. Another mother said working-class parents sometimes feel left out. The PTA, which raises nearly $300,000 a year, can be cliquish, this mother said. The parent coordinator, Deborah Markewich, told us the school organizes events that everyone can take part in, such as an international dinner and family fitness night for parents. She said parents whose children qualify for free lunch may receive free tickets to the annual auction, which raises much of the PTA budget.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: PS 166 has an unusual partnership with the Stephen Gaynor School, a private school nearby that serves children with learning disabilities. Some PS 166 students with reading difficulties go to the Stephen Gaynor School for extra help several afternoons a week. Like most public schools, PS 166 also has ICT team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. Children are admitted to the district-wide gifted program based on the results of an exam administered by the Department of Education; to be considered, parents must submit a "request for testing" in November. (Clara Hemphill & Mahalia Watson, February 2016)