John D. Wells (M.S. 50)
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Strong leadership; top-notch debate program; longer school day
School is moving in right direction, but still has a ways to go
MS 50 is a calm, friendly middle school that's gaining momentum thanks to an impressive debate program, strong leadership, and support from community organizations like El Puente, which offers after-school activities and family support services.
On our visit, children seemed relaxed and engaged; teachers were enthusiastic and spoke to students in a conversational voice. Students wear uniforms of a blue top and either black or khaki pants and every child is given a free sweatshirt and a few tops with the school logo.
Kids learn how to debate not only in English class, but in other classes as well. In English, they research a weekly debate topic such as single sex education, develop and present their arguments and offer feedback to their peers. In math, kids solve problems involving relevant statistics; in science, they read about and discuss gender differences and similarities; in social studies, they discuss the ethics of single sex education, including the issue of transgender students. Students who participate on the debate team, which has won city-wide tournaments, tackle topics on a more sophisticated level, but everyone in the school learns the basics.
In 2014, MS 50 became part of the city's Renewal and Community Schools programs, which provides extra funding, support and oversight to low performing schools. While the school suffered from poor academic performance and declining enrollment in recent years, it seems to be on the upswing.
It is hard to overstate the positive impact that Principal Ben Honoroff, a former teacher, assistant principal and debate coach at ACORN Community High School, has had since his arrival in June 2015. Sixth grade enrollment has doubled, attendance is up and chronic absenteeism (students absent more than 10 percent of the school year) is down. Honoroff and staff overhauled the curriculum and he gets high marks from parents, teachers and students based on their responses to the NYC School Survey. Honoroff was also a coach for the Middle School Quality Initiative (MSQI), assisting participating schools, including MS 50, with the implementation of the MSQI programs aimed at boosting literacy skills in middle school students.
Even with its progress, MS 50 continues to face the challenge of serving some very needy children, including some who arrive mid-year with limited English or with interrupted education. But in the classes we saw, teachers were adept at helping those struggling to read while challenging students who were high performing.
To bolster math achievement, Honoroff and teachers adopted the Big Ideas program, which encourages children to understand concepts while gaining computational accuracy.
MS 50 students have an extended school day until 4pm. During the extra periods students engage in activities such as debate class, drama, video game design, mural painting, robotics, crocheting (popular and very therapeutic, said Honoroff) salsa dancing, academic prep gardening and chess. El Puente oversees free after-school activities that run until 6 pm.
The school occupies three floors of an early, 20th century red brick building that is shares with Success Academy Williamsburg.
Students in all grades have a weekly, small group advisory with a teacher where they discuss a range of school and age-related issues. Staff members visit each incoming 6th-grader at home before the start of school. In the fall, Honoroff meets with each 8th-grader individually to discuss high school options.
In addition to a full-time guidance counselor and social worker, the Puerto Rican Family Institute provides counseling to families in need.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: In addition to SETTS there are ICT and self-contained classes for special needs students only. The school has a transitional bilingual program for native Spanish speakers.
ADMISSIONS: Priority to District 14 students and residents. The school has room for students from other parts of Brooklyn. (Laura Zingmond, January 2017)Read more