PS 169 in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood is facing exceptional challenges and meeting them in creative and ongoing ways that are engaging the community as a whole, with a principal and staff who put a high level of work and care into the school community. The core values are Friendship, Integrity, Responsibility, Excellence (F.I.R.E.); the staff strives to embed these in all school activities through the use of Responsive Classroom techniques, such as morning meetings and using teddy bears in the younger grades to teach and express emotions.
With 1,500 students, PS 169 is the sixth-largest school in NYC; an upcoming rezoning is expected to reduce this number by several hundred students. There is a large multilingual (Spanish and Chinese) immigrant community, which means constant student enrollment and some departures throughout the year. Despite being overcapacity, the school does not feel crowded or chaotic; in fact, there is a sense of calm and efficiency throughout the building. This is because the administration has taken care to overhaul facilities so that space is maximized for storage, meetings and multipurpose use. Administrators have taken the same care in creating schedules and programming that are supportive of both teachers and students.
The principal, EuJin Tang, has been at the school since 2015, and she is supported by five assistant principals. This leadership-heavy structure allows them to both effectively manage day-to-day operations and meet the unique needs of students, without sacrificing resources for either. Each of three APs are reponsible for two grade levels, while the other two APs oversee special education and special programs. They were each hired and/or delegated to focus on these areas based on previous experience or expertise. Tang has also increased the number of teachers at the school, with an emphasis on intervention and push-in staff to support students individually or in small groups. The school also regularly brings in consultants for in-depth professional development.
During our visit, the principal and APs were highly engaged with students and teachers—they were greeted excitedly by students and got involved in the activities going on in classrooms and hallways. This level of engagement from the leadership team seems to be a normal part of the day, based on how easily they integrated into activities.
One goal of the school is to encourage more student autonomy, as opposed to lessons that are solely teacher-directed, in order to push the students to do exploratory work. Thematic curriculum units—such as farms in kindergarten, immigration in 2nd grade and rainforest biodiversity in 5th grade—span classroom work, field trips, and specials to give children multiple access points. Students in all grades have "choice time," when they work on projects of their choosing that are aligned with one of the units or have community relevance (many elementary schools only give choice time to children in the younger grades).
To address the needs of its student population, PS 169 has extensive dual-language programs in Chinese and Spanish and places great importance on establishing and maintaining a sense of community, mutual respect and trust. Students get to know all of the adults in the building, including administrative staff, teachers, specialists, custodians and food service staff.
Tang believes that participating in the arts helps students improve both their academics and their mood. The school has three art teachers, two drama teachers and three music teachers who teach either in their own spaces or push into classrooms, as well as a dance program for all 4th-graders, run by the National Dance Institute.
Outdoor and playtime are also an important part of the students' day. Along with two well-stocked gyms, there is a ground-level playground as well as a new rooftop space with an Imagination Playground kit.
PS 169 has a three-member bilingual Family Support Team and an active PTA. The school's outreach efforts also include parent workshops, middle school readiness programs and info sessions in collaboration with legal advisers—all with multilingual translation services. The school distributes information in various languages and formats (fliers, robo-calls, texts) and hosts events such as Family Fridays to engage parents with the school.
There is an after-school program with a limited amount of seats in the school building, a well as several programs that pick up directly from the school.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. In recent years, there has been a waitlist in kindergarten. (Katherine Esterman, January 2018)