Brooklyn Brownstone School, PS 628
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Involved parents, high expectations, small class size
Some may think there's too much pressure on children
Strict rules of conduct, tons of homework and a no-nonsense atmosphere make Brooklyn Brownstone School seem like many parents idea of a charter school. But Brooklyn Brownstone, opened in 2008, is an ordinary public school open to children citywide.
Created by parents who wanted a high-quality option in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Brownstone has a dedicated staff, a structured curriculum, and classes with about 20 students each. Students are assigned about 1-1/2 hours of homework each night, including a required 20 minutes of readingfar more than is typical at this age. They are rated on their behavior every day, with the results sent home.
Teachers are expected to respond quickly to parent concerns and, according to a PTA leader, they do. "Teachers are very involved," she says.
For their part, parents are supposed to check homework every night and support the school's code of conduct. Many volunteer. "It's a very community school," the PTA leader told us. "It's not like you drop your kid off and go away." The active PTA runs a fee-based afterschool program.
Founding Principal Nakia Haskins, a Teach for America alumnus who also help start Girl Prep Charter School in Manhattan, greets children entering the school each morning. Parents give her high marks as a hands-on leader.
In some respects, the school is very traditional, with uniforms, phonics drills, and some desks in rows. At the same time, each class has a field trip at least once a month and all students take either music or visual art every day. On the day of our visit, the art teacher told a pre-K class about color value -- how light or dark a color is. "When you start young you can achieve a lot more later," he told us. All students learn to read music.
Generally the students seem involved. In a pre-K class hands eagerly shot up to discuss ways to get rid of the famous stains in "The Cat in the Hat." And kindergartners worked intently to label their bean plants under supervision of an instructor from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, one of Brooklyn Brownstone's many partners.
While some might think the school puts too much pressure on children, parents seem to love it. Parents give the teachers high marks and praise the school's high expectations, according to the Learning Environment Survey. Test scores were only average in its early years, but Haskins said Brooklyn Brownstone changed its math curriculum, introduced more nonfiction readings and made other moves to help students perform better on standardized tests. In 2014 Brooklyn Brownstone students posted major gains, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to hold the press conference where he announced the citywide results at the school with the principal at his side. "This school is doing a lot of things right," de Blasio said.
Slightly more than 44 percent of Brooklyn Brownstone students scored proficient -- meaning they got a level 3 or 4 -- on the state English Language Arts test. This was substantially above the citywide average of 29.4 and a sharp increase from Brooklyn Brownstone's 2013 result. The picture was similar in math, with 36.8 percent of students at the Bedford-Stuyvesant school getting a 3 or 4, up from 20.3 percent in 2013. Third and fourth graders accounted for the gains.
Brooklyn Brownstone shares a building with MS 35 Stephen Decatur and a District 75 program for students with disabilities. Brooklyn Brownstone students enter and leave the building through their own exit in the back and have little contact with children at the other schools.
Special education: The school has limited special education services. It offers Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETTS), but does not have self-contained or team teaching classes.
Admissions: Although the school is open to children citywide, preference is given to District 16 residents, siblings of current students and families who take a tour. Check the website for tour dates and an application. (Gail Robinson, March 2013; updated August 2014)Read more