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M.S. 258 Community Action School
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Supportive teachers; promotes a love of reading
Test scores, while improving, are only average
MS 258 Community Action School (CAS), a tiny school with a winning mix of structure and free expression, is undergoing a mini renaissance. A renovated art room, laptops for all children, and a new focus on challenging classes for top students have made this a school to watch. Children and parents are quick to say, "I love this school." Test scores are rising. Teachers rarely leave.
Unlike some higher-profile schools, CAS rolls out the red carpet for prospective parents. Two parents actually cried when they told us how welcome they felt when they met parent coordinator Karla Fittipaldi and the staff. The school, which once served mostly low-income black and Latino children, is gradually becoming more ethnically, racially and economically diverse.
Staff members go the extra mile. Parents are happy they can email teachers, and say the parent coordinator picks up the phone. “If there’s anything they can help you with, they will,” said an 8th-grade parent. Children say teachers “take you to the side” to explain tricky concepts, and invite you to stop by at lunch if you need help. One student said he was able to return to school to retrieve his forgotten homework assignment at 6 p.m. because his teacher was still at school.
The school has long done a good job boosting academic achievement for students who enter with weak skills. Now it is also finding ways to push stronger students. For example, it offers Regents-level algebra.
Teachers bring history to life. As 7th-graders wrote about jazz great Duke Ellington and African American poet Langston Hughes, a child told us, “I think it’s cool that we’re learning about our past. The Harlem Renaissance was what started to make this city more equal.”
After the lesson, 7th-graders gathered in the school’s large auditorium to hear a racially diverse quartet visiting from Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The school promotes a love of reading. Children in all grades read for about 45 minutes three times a week during the school day. Classrooms are stocked with large book collections. In addition to reading articles and essays, the whole class studies a novel or memoir together in depth, such as To Kill a Mockingbird, delving into themes and elements of a story.
Students say misbehavior is rare and is dealt with promptly through "send-outs,” a short time-out in another classroom, or loss of privileges, like trips.
Longtime assistant principal Andrew Sullivan took the helm in 2017 when the former principal, John Curry, who founded the school in 1994, left to work at the Department of Education. Teachers praise Sullivan for his attention to detail and his even-tempered leadership. “Everybody likes Andrew,” said a staffer.
The building is shared with MS 256 Lafayette Academy and Manhattan School for Children, a laid-back K-8 school. After-school clubs include chess, cross-country, soccer, drama, student government, martial arts and yoga.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school has long been at the forefront of "inclusion," integrating children with disabilities in general education classes with two teachers. It has a rare class called ACES with only seven children who have serious cognitive impairments.
ADMISSIONS: Families are encouraged to tour classes to get a feel for the school. All students that apply will have an interview with a staff member and will complete a math, reading and writing assessment. (Lydie Raschka, May 2018)