PS 241 STEM Institute of Manhattan
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Kids learn computer programming and basic engineering
Problems persist, despite improvements in school tone
A long-troubled school, PS 241 has made modest progress under the leadership of Marcia Hendricks, who became principal in 2014. Discipline has improved, teachers are happier, and enrollment is increasing. On our visit, the atmosphere was warm and the children seemed content.
Known as the STEM Institute of Manhattan, the school has an engineering teacher who helps children design model windmills, build bridges with LEGOs, or build "houses" of styrofoam and toothpicks for the "Three Little Pigs" to see which material is stronger. Each child gets a laptop computer, and there is a nice Mac lab. Children learn computer coding, including languages such as HTML. Children spend five periods a week studying engineering and computer technology.
Still, the school is battered by huge challenges. Though the enrollment is higher than it was when Hendricks arrived, it has declined by more than two-thirds since 2006, when competition from charters in the neighborhood began to lure children from traditional public schools. The Department of Education has periodically threatened to close the school for low enrollment and poor academic performance. More than 80 percent of the children zoned for PS 241 attend other schools. PS 241 had one class on each grade and just 18 children in kindergarten at the time of our visit. One-fifth of the children are homeless, and one-quarter are chronically absent, missing more than one month of school, according to Department of Education statistics.
PS 241 shares a cheery, well-maintained 1938 building with Harlem Success Academy 4, a charter school known for its sky-high test scores, strict disciplinary practices, and aggressive marketing campaign; and Opportunity Charter School, which serves children in grades 6-12, including many with special needs. PS 241 takes up just half of a corridor on the building's second floor. Like her colleagues at many district schools, Hendricks says she receives transfers from Harlem Success Academy, including some who cannot conform to the charter's strict expectations for discipline.
Hendricks, who began her career as a para-professional and teacher in District 5 in Harlem, worked as a principal intern at PS 21 in Queens before coming to PS 241. District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul said in her 2015 Quality Review that there has been "an improvement in culture" at the school and "teachers feel respected and valued." Every teacher responding to the school survey in 2016 said the principal is an effective leader. In 2014, only 29 percent of teachers answering the school survey said the school was orderly and disciplined; by 2016, that number was up to 56 percenta marked improvement, though still well below the citywide average.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: More than one-third of PS 241 pupils receive special education services. The school has two self-contained classes for children with special needs and several team-taught classes that mix special needs and general education pupils with two teachers.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. The school has frequent tours and welcomes children from outside the attendance zone. Children who enroll get a free book bag, a hoodie with the school logo, two long sleeved shirts and two short sleeved t-shirts. (Clara Hemphill, March 2017)