Concourse Village Elementary School PS 359
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Popular principal, quality art, high expectations; upper grade G&T program
Little play or choice time in kindergarten
In a few short years, Principal Alexa Sorden (who sends her own child to the school) has created a school with high expectations, clear routines and a winning mix of high-quality art and academics. The Concourse Village Elementary School has made remarkable gains in a building that once struggled with poor discipline and low levels of academic achievement.
Children wear uniforms and recite the school creed in unison. They take tests at the beginning and end of each 7-week "unit of study" to measure progress and plan instruction. Despite a meticulous structure, academics do not feel stodgy or "safe." Academic lessons are linked to art and music. For example, in a lesson that mixed arts and math, children made collages incorporating the principles of perimeter and area.
Pre-kindergartners explore big themes such as transportation and connect it to every day life. During a record snowfall, they added snowy roads and snow plows to their dramatic play, and made pretend snow in the classroom.
Kindergarten is more serious with its focus on writing, reading and numbers. Unlike pre-k, children do little in the way of open-ended play or exploration. They annotate texts by circling key words and underlining words. Children in all grades practice 3-5 new sight words weekly.
The school does a good job challenging top students while giving struggling students the support they need. Two bright 3rd-graders researched big cats on our visit, nimbly looking up leopards and tigers on their iPads. "White tigers are so rare!" said one. "It's a mutation." On Saturday, teachers meet with small groups of students who may be falling behind.
Families head home to the Dominican Republic for holidays and often stay an extra week, which is a challenge for the attendance team. The team visits homes to stress the importance of attendance, and Sorden leads a parent workshop in which she leaves out key information, as a way to demonstrate how confusing it is to miss school.
Sorden and her guidance counselor know that troubles at home can often spill over into the classroom. During morning drop off, they check for signs of fatigue, misbehavior or neglect, in order to offer a listening ear or practical assistance right away. Children earn points and fake money for treats, books and special events, but more important, the adults here model values through their caring, consistency and high standards.
Area middle school principals have taken note of the school's promise, especially MS/HS 223 and MS 343, and Sorden hopes to build alliances so her students can feed into these schools. The local KIPP elementary charter school is her "biggest competitor," she said, because they can offer middle and high school seats. (She loses some of her students in the upper grades to KIPP every year for this reason.)
The new school, opened in 2013, replaces the Performance School, which was closed for poor performance. The Performance School replaced PS 156, which was closed for poor performance in 2008. The building is shared with a charter school, Bronx Global Learning Insitute for Girls.
In 2016, the Department of Education began a district-wide gifted and talented program for students entering 3rd grade.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Team-teaching ICT classes mix children with special needs and their general education peers in one room.
ADMISSIONS: District 7 choice (Lydie Raschka, February, 2016; updated July 2016)Read more