I.S. X303 Leadership & Community Service
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Dedicated staff and safe haven for students
Low on student resources; reading scores are below the citywide average
Located on the top floor of a building shared with two others schools, CIS 303 Leadership and Community Service Academy is a nurturing school fondly referred to as the “penthouse to heaven” by students and staff.
Since its founding in 2000, during the small schools movement, when big chaotic schools were broken into smaller schools, CIS 303 quickly became known as a safe haven for students in a community riddled with social and economic stagnation. Now, at a more mature state in its evolution, CIS 303 is seeking to boost rigor and academics.
The atmosphere at the middle school feels structured, yet kind. We saw well-ordered classrooms with healthy student participation. Efforts were underway to build students’ reading levels and also boost self-esteem. In 6th grade, students read a book by activist and author Marley Dias, the 14-year-old whiz behind #1000blackgirlbooks, a campaign that has brought attention to the lack of black female protagonists in children’s literature. CIS 303 students, many black and brown teens themselves, identified with the character and compared her work ethic and goals with their own objectives—naturally concluding that they are capable of infinitely more.
Seventh graders worked on a writing prompt about the poet Maya Angelou in preparation for a test, but with a meaty focus on comprehension, and discussion, rather than rote test prep drills. The school has some strong teaching; the Algebra Regents teacher is a Big Apple teaching award recipient.
We asked about the low suspension rate and found the school would rather “talk a student to death,” than suspend them, because staff believe suspensions don’t solve the underlying issues or provide the tools students need to improve. During advisory period, when students meet with an adult in small groups, teens find language to express their emotions. During silent reading periods, teens find space for much needed quiet and calm.
Principal Monica Brady took the helm in 2018, following two decades of leadership by the founding principal. Brady worked as a teacher at CIS 303 and served as assistant principal.
A few downsides: We saw many Xeroxed paper copies used for instruction; there did not seem to be enough text books, nor rich collections of fiction and non-fiction books in the classrooms to go around. The school offers visual art but no music.
What the school may lack in physical resources it makes up for with a dedicated and creative teaching staff. Teachers host a Career Day with a wide range of professionals, and a Women’s Day, during which women speak to girls about what it means to be a female minority in the business world. Meanwhile, boys receive information on how to be allies in support of their future female colleagues.
Special education: One third of the student population are designated “special needs,” but the administration says all incoming students have fundamental learning gaps that may be two to three years behind grade level. To address this, most classes are Integrated co-teaching, or ICT, with at least two teachers in the room, sometimes three. Extra help is provided four times a week to get students up to speed. The school does not shame students if they are behind, however they do not sugar coat either. The facts are presented along with a plan to fix it.
Admissions: This is an unscreened school in district 9. (Jacqueline Wayans, March 2019)