P.S. 48 P.O. Michael J. Buczek
Bright, modern building; strong dual-language and special education programs
Student test scores could be better
PS 48 is a vibrant and inviting elementary school with a reputation for serving the needs of Washington Heights working-class families and newly arrived immigrants. Dual-language (Spanish and English) and special education programs are both strong, and the school supplements core academics with a solid dose of art, music, drama and gym. Extremely bright kids sometimes seek more academic challenge elsewhere, but the majority of students and parents believe the school meets their needs.
During our visit, we saw classrooms full of upbeat young faces eagerly learning from competent teachers who displayed a knack for keeping classrooms under control. (We witnessed three different stop and listen techniques in a single hour.) Student artwork adorned the halls and classrooms of the welcoming (and wheelchair-accessible) three-story facility, which features a gym, auditorium, computer lab and library. Even the portable kindergarten classrooms (added when the school expanded to offer 5th grade) are warm and inviting.
In 2009, PS 48 received the National Center for Learning Disabilities Pete and Carrie Rozelle Award for success in addressing the needs of students who struggle with learning. On our visit the special education class we observed (for kids in grades 3-5) was about the most cheerful we have ever seen. While many self-contained classrooms can lack energy and a sense of community, this one was bright and full of teachers actively helping kids.
The schools principal is Tracy Walsh, who previously taught at PS/IS 187 and just fell in love with the kids in this neighborhood. She took the job of principal at PS 48 in 1999 because I saw so much possibility. Low student test scores have improved since Walsh arrived, but numbers are still below expectations, especially in the upper grades.
About half of PS 48s students are not native English speakers and many could qualify for bilingual assistance, but Walsh said immigrant parents are often reluctant to seek help or prefer their children to get an English-only education. The school has done a good job of working with these new students, many of whom received little education in their native country in addition to struggling with English. However, the slower academic schedule necessary to bring all students up to grade level may frustrate some families. There is no gifted program, and Walsh said extremely bright children sometimes transfer out of PS 48 in search of a school that can move smart students at a faster pace.
The schools extensive after-school offerings include tutoring two days a week (mandatory for students who need extra help) as well as English language help for students in grades 3 through 5.
Counseling services geared toward new immigrants and low-income families are also available. Walsh said new 3rd- or 4th-graders sometimes are recent arrivals from Latin American countries, perhaps brought to New York to live with a parent or in-laws whom they barely know. Many students live in public housing, while others live in homeless shelters or overcrowded, shared apartments. Teachers work to make the school warm and welcoming for the students so at least they feel safe and happy when they are here, Walsh said.
Parent involvement is strong (about 95 percent of families attend parent-teacher conferences, Walsh said), and the school is viewed by many as a social and cultural oasis in a neighborhood that has its share of challenges. PS 48 is named for Michael J. Buczek, a well-liked New York City police officer who was shot and killed in 1988 while attempting to arrest two drug suspects in the area. (Walsh is herself the daughter of a police officer and lived in an apartment at 189th Street and Broadway before her family moved to Yorktown.)
Teachers have on average five to seven years of experience, although the range varies widely. New hires often have no teaching experience (I dont have to un-teach them anything, Walsh said) while some teachers stay their whole careers here. Walsh said she was making more of an effort this year to communicate with the staff in response to a recent DOE Learning Environment Survey that indicated a small but persistent undercurrent of teacher dissatisfaction with the principal.
Special education: Students with special needs are taught alongside general education students in integrated co-teaching (ICT) classes that feature two teachers, one of whom is certified to teach special education. PS 48 also has two self-contained (12:1:1) classes, one for grades K-2 and the second for grades 3-5, designed for students with more serious learning disabilities.
Admission: First priority goes to children of families living in the PS 48 zone, and second priority goes to siblings of current students who now live outside the zone. New families living outside the zone can apply but are put on the schools waiting list. (Skip Card, December 2012)
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Manhattan NY 10033