P.S. 24 Spuyten Duyvil
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Relations with community; lingering controversies
Tucked away in Riverdale between the Henry Hudson Parkway and the Hudson River, PS 24 Spuyten Duyvil is a neighborhood school with strong arts offerings, and a district-wide gifted and talented program.
For years, the school has been racked by disputes over space and enrollment, some involving local political leaders. After those disputes lead to the departure of first a principal and then an acting principal, Steven Schwartz took over in 2016. While he has restored some stability and instituted new programs, controversies remain.
Arts continue to be a key part of the curriculum, with students taking visual art that incorporates some art appreciation. Two music teachers allow PS 24 to offer both vocal and instrumental music, including recorder for 3rd graders and instrumental lessons for individual students who want them. Art infuses other subjects as well. On the day we visited, 2nd graders decorated envelopes in which they would bring home their work and 5th graders visualized decimals and fractions by coloring in a grid.
Aside from the gifted and talented classes, kindergarten through 3rd grade classes have students at a range of academic levels. In 4th and 5th grade, students are grouped in separate English language arts and math classes, with one teacher handling English and social studies and the other math and science.
In all rooms, tables are clustered, rather than in rows, and children frequently work on their own or in small groups. Students are allowed, even encouraged, to talk as they work and most classrooms have a pleasant buzz, and students look happy and engaged. Attention does lag among some during the large group lessons.
Schwartz’s main efforts, he says, have focused on building more trust among teachers at the school and seeking out advice from parents, staff and students. The school has, for example, instituted a new messenger system to improve communications with parents. For years, the school scored low in communication and trust, according to a Department of Education survey. Although its comprehensive educational plan said this has begun to change, PS 24 still ranks well below average.
Schwartz attributes some of this to divisions in the neighborhood and a reluctance to accept change. In the past 10 years, the percentage of white students at the school has dropped, while the percentage of Hispanic students has increased The community has grappled with a dispute over whether some children, many of them Hispanic or low-income, were attending PS 24 even though they did not live in the zone. “In a divided community whatever you do, some people will love it and some will hate it,” Schwartz says, adding, “It’s important that all voices are heard.”
Many teachers have left in the past several years, some of which Schwartz attributes to teachers retiring or moving to other comunities. But, he says, "I don't think any one leader is right for everybody." He says the faculty plays a major role in the hiring of new teachers. The current staff said in the DOE survey that they would recommend the school to other families.
Perhaps in a nod to the conflicts in the community, the school instituted a conflict resolution program with both a program for entire grades and a plan for individual students to work out difficulties.
While the students may be becoming “peacemakers” and students appear to get along with one another, adults don’t seem to be faring as well. Anonymous letters and articles in the New York Post have attacked Schwartz.
ADMISSIONS: Students from throughout the district are admitted to the gifted and talented program in kindergarten through grade 3 on the basis of their performance on the citywide test. The school itself can admit students to fill any vacancies in the program in grades 4 and 5. Otherwise this is a zoned school. Although enrollment has declined, there are few, if any, openings for children from outside the zone. (Gail Robinson, November 2019)