P.S. 65 The Raymond York Elementary School
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School and community spirit
Limited facilities; dreary, industrial neighborhood
2008 UPDATE: Rafael Morales, a former assistant principal at PS 65, is now the school's principal. Former principal Beth Longo retired at the end of the 2007-2008 school year.
APRIL 2006 REVIEW: In 2002 PS 65, The Raymond York School, became the beneficiary of very generous grant from Joel Greenblatt, a hedge fund manager who pledged to spend $1,000 annually per enrolled student for a period of five years. That's roughly $2.5 million dollars beyond public funding to support the school's delivery of Success for All, a literacy and math curriculum that some educators have heralded and others criticized for its reliance on highly-scripted lesson plans. Especially in the younger grades, the school places a strong emphasis on drilling and repetition and having students respond in unison to promptsword phrases and rhythmic hand claps.
Since the money started flowing, the school has experienced a dramatic turn-around in achievement, one touted by New York Magazine as "worthy of a Harvard B-school case study." Prior to receiving the grant, only 36 percent of 4th graders were performing at or above grade level in English as measured by standardized tests. In 2005, three years into the grant, that figure had almost doubled to 71 percent. Nearly 95 percent of the 4th graders accomplished the same in math, which amounts to a 40 percentage point jump in four years.
Principal Beth Longo says that the school's success in English was particularly hard fought because many of her students are recent immigrants from South American and South Asian countries. In every class that we visited, she pointed out students who had received little no formal education prior to their arrival or who had struggled to adjust to the change in climate and culture from their native homelands, which range from Bangladesh to Guyana.
The extra funds have also liberated PS 65 from the difficult choices facing most public schools over how to apply limited resources. Classrooms are decorated nicely with brightly-colored rugs and well-stocked book shelves, while laptop computers, art supplies, and gym materials are plentiful. "Who else has the luxury of buying brand new science and social studies books for an entire school," said Longo. "We follow DOE [city Department of Education] guidelines, but the grant has allowed us to be creative in how we spend DOE money." In the early grades, children get to keep many of the Success for All books that they use in class, which helps them build their own libraries at home.
What we found on our visit is a calm, well-run school with an enormous amount of learning packed into every day. At the core of PS 65's success is its school-wide literacy instruction. For the first two hours of the day, students in grades 1 through 5 disperse throughout the building to their assigned literacy group, comprising students of similar skill level, regardless of grade. An advanced 3rd grader may join a group of 5th graders in the cafeteria for reading and writing instruction, while a struggling 2nd grader may join a small group of 1st graders in a classroom. Extra teachers push into the kindergarten classes for small group reading instruction, and retired teachers are hired for one-on-one tutoring for any child not demonstrating adequate progress.
"This is an expensive model. You need to secure a grant to do it the way it is supposed to be done," said Longo who acknowledged that Success for All would be prohibitively expensive for most schools because of the number of materials and the amount of training and staffing needed to administer the program.
Beyond literacy instruction, we observed kindergarten students discussing how spring varies in different parts of the world. First graders were using laptops to design databases about their favorite animals, and studying gas and liquids by observing blue-colored ice cubes melt. The task was challenging for the six-year-olds, who struggled to describe their observations, but the science teacher circulated throughout the room prompting the students with questions. In art, students crafted papier-mache dancers, inspired by their study of Impressionist painter Edgar Degas.
Located in the shadow of the elevated A train tracks, the school is housed in an old airplane-parts factory in a dreary, industrial section of Queens. Inside, crisp lighting, nicely decorated hallways, and soft touches like the stuffed animals adorning the portable laptop cart help to create a cheery environment. The school is filled to capacity, and in 2005 it had to surrender use of its modern-equipped science lab to make room for an additional 1st grade class. There is neither a gymnasium nor an auditorium, but a large multi-purpose room is used for physical education and school gatherings.
Students wear uniforms of white tops and navy pants, skirts, or jumpers.
English as a Second Language: Two full-time ESL teachers handle small group and individual instruction for the growing English language learner population. The school plans to add a third ESL teacher for the 2006-07 school year.
Special education: The school has "self-contained" classes for children with special needs. (Laura Zingmond, April 2006)Read more