P.S. 705 Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School
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A welcoming school
Some growing pains as new school finds its way
PS 705, the Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School (BASES), is a cheerful and orderly school opened in 2012 on the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights. A popular dual language program gives children the chance to become fluent readers and speakers of English and Spanish. The school offers classes in dance, music, art and fencing.
Founding principal Sandra Soto works hard to balance the concerns of a range of parents and families: those who want a progressive approach to education and those who prefer traditional methods; homeless families who live in nearby shelters and upper middle class families who live in brownstones. The PTA has a diversity committee to make sure that all parents feel included; the leadership of the PTA includes people of different races. Sotos's own family is multi-racial--she is of Haitian ancestry and her husband is Puerto Rican--and she seems to have a good rapport with parents of different ethnic groups.
Most grades have two classes: a dual language class (in which the language of instruction alternates between English and Spanish each day) and a team-teaching class (which mixes special needs and general education pupils, with two teachers). On our visit, we saw some traditional teaching methods, such as math drills on worksheets as well as some progressive approaches, such as lessons on the life cycle of the trout, from eggs hatched in a classroom aquarium. Classes are small and most have an assistant teacher or an aide in addition to the classroom teachers.
The building that houses PS 705 has seen a remarkable transformation. Formerly known as PS 22, it was a chaotic, low-performing school with a declining enrollment and one of the lowest rated principals in the city. Soto, formerly assistant principal at the well-regarded PS 189, opened her new school in 2012 with grades k-3 and added a grade each year; Explore Exceed Charter School opened in the building the same year. PS 22 took in no new students that year and closed permanently in 2014.
Starting a new school was easier than turning around an old school would have been, Soto said. "You get to set the tone. You get to choose your staff," Soto said. Key to the school's success is the attention to children's social and emotional development. A full-time social worker and four social work interns staff the feelings room where they help children manage their frustrations before they become behavior problems.
While Sotos's vision is clear, the school is a work in progress. In the school's first years, some parents withdrew their children after kindergarten or 1st grade to transfer to better-established schools. But parents who are willing to stay and work together to improve the school can count on the support of the administration and a cohesive staff.
"You have to be a pioneer, and you have to be willing to fight through the growing pains," Soto said.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school is welcoming to children with a range of special needs and offers lots of one-on-one help. In addition to the ICT (integrated co-teaching) classes, there are self-contained classes.
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school. Eager to keep the mix of different kinds of families as the neighborhood becomes more wealthy, Soto received permission from the Department of Education to give preference to out-of-zone families who are learning English or who are in the child welfare system. (Any child who lives in the zone is automatically admitted.)(Clara Hemphill, November 2015)Read more