Hamilton Heights School
Hands-on learning, parents are welcome
Shared space is a challenge; test scores have a way to go & rapid turnover of principals
[SEPTEMBER 2017 UPDATE: Dierdre Budd, the innovative and respected leader of PS 178, became principal of Hamilton Heights starting in September 2017. She will continue to lead PS 178 as well. The schools are about three miles apart. According to her Linkedin profile, former principal Michelle Harbowy is now an educational consultant and instructional coach.]
Tiny Hamilton Heights Academy emphasizes social awareness, respect and a welcoming school culture. Each Friday there is a vibrant schoolwide sing-along that incorporates many songs devoted to social awareness and community. The school embraces diversity, and school administrators and the parent coordinator reach out to local nursery and day-care programs to build their diverse student body.
Hamilton Heights began in 2002 as a program at PS 28. In 2007 it gained official status as a K-5 school, PS 368 Hamilton Heights School. In 2010 HHS moved about 20 blocks south and now shares space with PS 153. Hallways are clean and bright, and the overall tone is inviting. The shared space has presented some facility challenges: because of restricted gym and play-yard access, physical education often takes place in the classroom or at the nearby Riverbank complex. The street outside the school is closed to traffic during school hours for Play Street, and children may play outside at recess. There is no physical education teacher but there is a fulltime dance teacher and dance classes take place in what used to be the science room. The downside is that there is no longer a dedicated science room or teacher but the administration and staff make the most of the space they have and are grateful that, rather than being split between two buildings, grades K-5 now are housed under one roof on the second floor.
All children get music lessons and learn to speak either Chinese or Arabic, thanks to a grant from Global Language Projects. They get two 45 minute foreign language classes a week.
The school has a progressive academic approach with an emphasis on project-based learning. Teachers have successfully created an open and collaborative learning environment. On our visit, some classrooms were a little disorganized and at times the pace seemed a bit slow, but overall students were engaged and happy. The school strives to develop creative thinkers, who are self-motivated and share responsibility for their learning. On the day of our visit one teacher was highlighting the importance of self-editing, and many classrooms were engaged in group activities.
There has been a turnover in principals since the school's move: Alva Buxenbaum who set progressive academic goals with an increased focus on rigor, was head of the school from 2007 to 2011. In 2011, Nicky Kram Rosen, who previously worked in District 3 and at the Department of Education's gifted and talented office, became principal. She left in 2013 for a position in a network of Brooklyn schools and in September 2013, Valerie Valentine, who was a special education administrator at the network which supported Hamilton Heights, became interim acting principal. She left in August 2014 and was replaced by MichelleHerbowy, formerly executive director of instruction for the Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners at Tweed.
Herbowy is "guiding and coaching the teachers is a way that is paying off in remarkable ways," according to the parent of a 1st grader. "She's helping the new teachers with their classroom management, and all the teachers with getting the new DOE requirements well-integrated into their teaching."
Parent Coordinator Bertilia Diaz is likewise full of energy and available to parents. Family potlucks are part of the school culture, along with the well-attended sing-alongs. Parents actively fundraise for additional programming and supplies, and contributed to a grant that brought an art program to the school. In addition to the PA, Friends of Hamilton Heights holds nonprofit status and raises money, with events such as talent shows.
Fourth and 5th graders went to the Broadway show "Newsies" and spoke with the cast after the play.
English Language Learners: Approximately 15 percent of the Hamilton Heights students are English language learners. Two classroom teachers are certified to teach English as a Second Language; a full-time ESL and special ed certified teacher, serve children in small groups outside the classroom.
Special Education: Students receive services within the classroom and in small groups when necessary. There are no self-contained special education classes. The school has a reading recovery teacher, a part-time speech therapist, and a learning specialist. Students in need of occupational therapy receive services outside of school. A guidance counselor is on site two days per week and helps families arrange for services.
After school: Road to success, play and homework help, snacks and recreation.
Admissions: Open to all District 6 students with priority to siblings of current students. In recent yearsz, parents or caregivers were required to attend a tour of Hamilton Heights and then complete an application. The school holds monthly tours on Fridays. See the website for more information. (Sharon McCann-Doyle, April 2011; updated November 2014)