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P.S. 321 William Penn

Grades: K-5
Staff Pick
180 7 Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11215
Phone: 718-499-2412

Our Insights

What’s Special

Academically demanding school is also fun

The Downside

No pre-k, overcrowding

PS 321 has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best schools in the city. Children learn to think deeply, to work independently, and to take responsibility for their own education. Teachers work together as a team and think seriously about how they can continuously refine their techniques. Both children and adults are excited about learning.

Longtime principal Liz Phillips, whose own children attended the school, has created an atmosphere that's both demanding and fun. "To be successful, kids have to love school" says Phillips. She serves as a mentor for a number of principals in Brooklyn; some of the best principals in the city have trained under her and served as assistant principals at PS 321.

While each classroom has its own personality, there is a consistency to the instruction from class to class and from grade to grade—a remarkable feat considering there are nearly 90 teachers in the school. The school does a good job challenging top students while giving children who need extra help the support they need.

The biggest problem is overcrowding. For more than a decade, some classes have been held in the mini-school which covers part of the playground in a building that was originally designed to be temporary. In the main building, teachers meet with children in small groups sitting on the floor of the corridor. In one classroom, children made room for a dance lesson by pushing their desks to the side. The art teacher comes into regular classrooms in some grades, because there isn't room for a separate art class. There is no room for pre-kindergarten, and after-school programs are limited.

Despite the overcrowding, PS 321 has managed to keep class size reasonable, with 25 or 26 in the lower grades and 29 in the 5th grade.

In every class we visited, there was a happy hum of activity as kids worked thoughtfully and purposefully. In kindergarten and 1st grade, children build towers and other structures from wooden blocks, writing labels to identify them, such as a bank. They interview adults in the school, such as the custodian or the security guard, to learn about their jobs. They walk to Prospect Park as part of a tree study. They make mobiles to learn about balance and motion.

The school has been working with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project for more than 30 years, and writing is one of the school's strengths. Teachers balance traditional skills like spelling and cursive writing with imaginative assignments.

In 3rd grade, as part of their study of China, children wrote essays with topics as varied as traditional medicine, pandas and the first emperor. By the time children are in 5th grade their projects are quite sophisticated. One essay, part of a study of the Civil War and Reconstruction, gave reasons why you would not want your leg amputated.

The school has an eclectic approach to math. Teachers take pride in their ability to create math games that build children's skills in fun ways. They share their games with one another and with parents.

Firmly in the progressive camp, PS 321 has been part of the rebellion against standardized testing. More than one-third of children opted-out, or refused to take state tests for reading and math in 2015.

Parents are welcome in the school and are particularly invited to see their children's classrooms once on month, called First Friday.

A hyperactive PTA raises about $1 million a year. At the same time, the school takes steps to ensure that fundraising efforts don't alienate parents who might not have much money. Even if only 7 percent of children qualify for free lunch, that's still 140 children, says Phillips. While the annual auction is expensive ($125 per person), the school has free events such as a potluck supper and family arts nights designed to include everyone.

The proportion of Black and Hispanic children enrolled at the school has declined in recent years, and Whites now make up 75 percent of the population. A multi-ethnic group of parents have organized a diversity committee to ensure that all feel welcome.

SPECIAL EDUCATION: Each grade has two ICT classes with two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. Although there are no self-contained classes, the school integrates children with significant special needs in regular classrooms with extra supports. For example, a child with significant emotional problems may have a full-time aide assigned to help her manage her behavior. A mentor teacher with significant special education experience is available to give classroom teachers guidance and support.

ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. In recent years, the school has had room for all the children in its attendance zone. (Clara Hemphill, March 2016; updated August 2016)

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School Stats

Citywide Average Key
This school is Better Near Worse than the citywide average

Is this school safe and well-run?

From the 2022-2023 NYC School Survey

How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?
82% Citywide Average
How many teachers say they would recommend this school to other families?
84% Citywide Average

From the 2019-20 NY State Report Card

How many students were suspended?
1% Citywide Average

From this school's most recent Quality Review Report

Are teachers effective?

From 2023 End-of-year Attendance and Chronic Absenteeism Report

How many teachers have 3 or more years of experience teaching?
85% Citywide Average
Years of principal experience at this school

How do students perform academically?

From the New York State 2022-2023 Assessment Database

How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
53% Citywide Average
How many elementary school students scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
50% Citywide Average

Who does this school serve?

From the 2022-23 Demographic Snapshot

Free or reduced priced lunch
Students with disabilities
English language learners

From the 2022-23 School Quality Guide

Average daily attendance
91% Citywide Average
How many students miss 18 or more days of school?
36% Citywide Average

How does this school serve special populations?

From the New York State 2022-2023 Assessment Database

How many students with disabilities scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
30% Citywide Average
How many students with disabilities scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
23% Citywide Average
How many English language learners scored 3-4 on the state math exam?
21% Citywide Average
How many English language learners scored 3-4 on the state reading exam?
12% Citywide Average

For more information about our data sources, see About Our Data · More DOE statistics for this school

Contact & Location


Park Slope (District 15)
Trains: R Line to Union St; B Line, F Line, G Line, Q Line to 7th Ave; 2 Line, 3 Line to Grand Army Plaza
Buses: B103, B41, B61, B63, B67, B69


Elizabeth Phillips
Parent Coordinator
Deborah Orr

Other Details

Shared campus?
This school is in its own building.
Metal detectors?

Zone for the 2019-2020 school year. Call school to confirm.

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