P.S. 114 Ryder Elementary
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Principal who courts student suggestions
Students sometimes seem unsupervised.
2011 UPDATE: The Department of Education considered closing PS 114 but decided to keep it open and to reduce enrollment. The decrease in enrollment made space for Explore Excel Charter School which moved into the building in 2011.
JULY 2010 UPDATE: A report released on July 21, 2010 by the Special Commissioner of Education found that Maria Pena-Herrera, principal when Insideschools last visited PS 114, ran up a budget deficit of $100,000, hired and fired four assistant principals, and illicitly employed uncertified teachers among other wrongdoings. However, it was her failure to follow proper procedure during a school evacuation that ultimately cost Pena-Herrera her job in 2009. Despite teachers and parents questioning why Pena-Herrera was allowed to stay in her job well after 2007, when city officials first convened a meeting to discuss her financial practices, the Department of Education said that the school's rising report card grade had influenced the decision to let her stay until 2009. A DOE spokesperson said that the city would follow the recommendation of the Special Commissioner and bar Pena-Herrera from ever working in the school system again. Charmaine Luke is the school's current principal.
The gifted and talented program is phasing out with the last gifted class scheduled to graduate in 2013.
MAY 2005 REVIEW: At PS 114 in Canarsie, exceptional students are challenged, troubled students are seen by a resident psychologist, and struggling students get individual attention from paraprofessionals. Even so, on the day of our visit we saw some aimless wanderers and rowdy behavior in the halls of this huge school.
We saw both love and toughness emphasized on our tour, during which principal Maria Penaherrera reprimanded half a dozen children for being out of class, but had smiles, hellos, and hugs for 10 times as many students who eagerly approached her. "I have a tough love policy," said Pennaherrera, who took over in August 2004.
A big part of Penaherrera's successful courting of her 1,000 students (she had been on the job just eight months when we visited and seemed to know everyone's name) comes from including them in changes she is making at the school. When a 2nd grade class complained about the lack of gym, she introduced a new schedule. Now every class gets weekly physical education. Another class asked for Spanish language instruction, which is now part of the 1st and 2nd grade curriculum.
There is a gifted and talented program at PS 114, as well as an accelerated "enrichment" class in each grade. In a 4th grade enrichment class, a group of girls competed to see who could solve multiplication problems with decimals the fastest. We were impressed at their skill, even more so when it became apparent that the girls had started the game independently while the class got ready to go to lunch and this at the end of an intense three-day standardized math test!
Penaherrera is working to encourage teachers to practice "differentiated learning" to instruct children at all levels of ability. She also wants to raise the profile of arts curriculum, which she concedes "is not very visible."
The school, which comprises three wings built a quarter of a century apart, is sprawling and noisy. On the small playground, which is scheduled for expansion, rough play was the rule with only two adults available to supervise. The school psychologist had to roam several floors to find a student who had "stormed out" of the lunchroom and had left the building on the previous day. In the cafeteria, an older boy got into a shouting match with a legendary school aide, Beatrice Altadonna, a diminutive 80-year old grandmother who has been at the school for a half century and can hold her own with the toughest kids.
While Altadonna is clearly exceptional, she's not an anomaly at a school with a long history. More than 20 staff members are PS 114 graduates who have sent their kids through the school. Hanging outside the main office are class photos dating back to 1920, documenting the demographic shift in the neighborhood, which 50 years ago was predominantly Italian and Jewish. Today the vast majority of the students are of Caribbean and African-American descent.
English as a Second Language: Each grade has a class made up mostly of English language learners. Teachers in these classes are being trained in ESL methodology.
Special education: Students with special needs are placed with general education students in kindergarten and 5th grade. Some students with learning disabilities are put into a special "language" class with second-language learners, where the pace is slower and there are paraprofessionals available to work with them individually.
After school: In addition to academic tutoring, students may participate in math, arts and crafts, gym, music, or drama clubs. There is also a science club that works in the school's well-kept greenhouse.
Admissions: Testing for the gifted program, done by the regional office, takes place in spring. The four half-day PK classes are filled first-come, first-served. (Elizabeth Kiem, May 2005)Read more