P.S. 247 The New York City College Partnership Elementary School
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Well-organized, welcoming school excels in math
Overcrowding, no gym, and no schoolyard to speak of
PS 247 is a welcoming, well-organized school that won a Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education in 2013 for excellence in education. Students get plenty of instruction in small groups or one on one, and the personal attention pays off in high achievement.
Chris Ogno, principal since 2005, believes in an eclectic academic approach, adopting programs that work best for his students and then adding to them as needed. The school's math scores are among the highest in the district, especially noteworthy in a school where one fifth of the students are still learning to speak English. PS 247 began using the GO Math curriculum two years before the city recommended it but augments it with intensive problem-solving and a program called Exemplars. This is beneficial for the many immigrant students who need lots of practice with word problems, Ogno said.
"We're exposing kids to literacy. If we see children aren't getting it, we break them into small groups," explained Ogno. "Children need to know how to think and to learn multiple ways to solve problems. They have to show their work."
There is a math lead teacher on every grade and at least 75 minutes is spent on math daily, with extra work on solving word problems twice a week. A math lesson might begin with a short animated video from Brain Pop - motivation to get the lesson going. There are lunchtime groups for tutoring and it's not uncommon to see small groups of kids meeting with specialists in hallway corners.
"That's what makes us successful, the academic intervention that we do," he said.
Students keep science vocabulary notebooks along with reading and writing notebooks that get passed on to the next year's teacher. There is an emphasis on reading non-fiction: five of the nine study units are non-fiction. Non-fiction is particularly good for children with learning disabilities, the principal said, because of the shorter text passages and photographs. "They feel more successful because they have photos and captions," he said. As in math, most reading and writing lessons begin with a short mini-lesson, after which children go off to works in pairs, small groups or independently. Teachers regular meet with students individually to assess their progress.
Teachers meet four times a week to plan lessons--an unusual amount of shared planning time. Preparation for state tests is mostly limited to the four weeks before the exams when there is a three hour Saturday Academy open to all students; about half attend.
There are ample opportunities for students to travel beyond the school walls. The principal expects every grade to take eight trips per year to farms, city landmarks or cultural institutions. Fourth graders studying New York City visit Ellis Island, the Empire State building and Brooklyn Museum.
As part of a college partnership program, children visit universities such as FIT where they sat in on a dress-making class or Columbia where they saw a robotics program. College students come into the school at least twice a year. "Most families are first generation immigrants and this is an opportunity to introduce them to college," said the principal.
Built for fewer than 600 students, there are nearly 800 at PS 247. Hallways are used for teaching small groups of kids; science and art teachers travel with their carts. There is a well-equipped music studio with keyboards and every child gets weekly lessons in music and composition.
"The only issue here is space," said a parent. There's only a small outdoor yard, the cafeteria doubles as a gym and an all-purpose room can only fit one grade at a time.
In a quirk of zoning, PS 247 is a District 20 elementary school but its students are zoned for District 21 middle schools, giving children the option to apply to schools in both districts. Many go to nearby IS 96 Seth Low; others to gifted programs in District 20.
English Language Learners: There is small group instruction for the many children learning to speak English and regular lessons in the ESL room. One kindergarten class enrolls only ELL students, with the most common native languages being Chinese, Russian, Urdu and Spanish. Recent immigrants come from Eastern Europe and South Asia, as well as China and Central America.
Special education: One of the five classes on every grade is a co-teaching class, with one teacher specialized in special education.
After school: There is a daily arts-focused after school program that runs from 3-6 pm.
Admission: Zoned school. (Pamela Wheaton, October 2013)