P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman
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Strong community partnerships
High teacher turnover, shared space
PS 154 in Harlem benefits from several innovative community partnerships, a resourceful principal and some strong classroom teachers. Alarge number of chronically absent kids, an encroaching charter school and lack of resources have nevertheless stymied the schools attempts to raise test scores and retain some of its younger staff.
The school has two pre-kindergarten classes with new faculty that were assigned in 2013. Although the pre-k teachers had previously taught older children, the classrooms appeared well managed and we saw some creative hands-on projects. In a math-measuring unit on feet, kids used photos and paintings to make collages of their feet and sized them for shoes. The teachers stay true to Department of Education suggested curriuclum for pre-k, incorporating a mix of work at centers or stations, and projects that the children direct themselves.
For the rest of the school, reading and math are definitely the focus. The school is part of the Carmel Hill literature program in which students are assessed and guided through their reading with progress-monitoring software. We saw some very traditional phonics work being taught in the classroom, and we were impressed by many nonfiction books the kindergartners had read. On the day of our visit, the kindergartners seemed very calm and engaged in their literature lesson.
The schools many partnerships encourage this love of reading and storytelling. The organization Behind the Book brought in New York Times-bestselling author Andrea Pinkney to inspire 3rd- and 5th-graders in creating their very own books; while the Apollo Theater worked with 5th-graders on an oral history project about Harlem. Children interviewed elders about their lives in the neighborhood and performed their stories aloud on the Apollo stage.Harlem Childrens Zone provides after school activities.
Longtime Principal Elizabeth Jarrett says she does not believe in using classroom time for state test prep. Instead, practice for state tests for the older children is done after school and during a Saturday program. The school does provide its own regular assessments for reading, which are built into the reading program. For math, teachers use an expanded version of Pearson's GoMath!, which includes performance-based assessments.
Math scores for the school as a whole have been on the decline. Jarrett says she let go of the schools math coach because she couldnt justify the expense given the downward trend of the scores. Weekend tutoring remains available at the school, and Jarrett says kids are incentivized to attend with athletic games and activities.
Jarrett, who interacted warmly with several kids during our visit (some even gave her hugs), has been with PS 154 since 1996. She is frank about the schools problems and admits that teacher turnover is high. The budget is tight, and Jarrett says she is constantly training new teachers who are then recruited to work in the suburbs. Only slightly more than half of teachers surveyed in the Learning Environment Survey thought she was an effective manager.
Some teachers had good control of their classes; one or two classes in particular were filled with students who were actively participating and engaged. We did hear raised voices from some adults, however.
Tensions with Democracy Prep Charter School over shared spaces are the school's next hurdle. As of 2014, the charter occupied most of the third floor of the building, but PS 154 will need to give up some rooms as Democracy expands to its full capacity as a middle school. Special services such as ESL and SETSS will be affected most, Jarrett says.
Special education: The school offers self-contained classes and SETSS.
Admissions: Neighborhood school. The school has two pre-kindergarten classrooms and will add an additional kindergarten in fall 2014. (Mahalia Watson, June 2014)Read more