P.S. 26 The Carteret School
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Teachers are learners too
PS 26 is probably the closest thing New York City has to a little red schoolhouse. Most staff members know nearly every child by name, and classes are small. "It feels like it's in a time warp," said Parent Coordinator Diane Heinz, whose family has sent six generations to the school. While the surrounding Travis neighborhood has gradually absorbed new housing and the community's cherished 4th of July Flag Day celebration has become more multicultural, the rate of such change is still slow. So it's surprising to find a more cutting-edge education here than in many schools closer to the urban hub. "It's a top-notch education with a personal touch," said Principal Laura Kump.
PS 26 is growing again after several years of declining numbers; even enrollment in upper grades is climbing as parents pull children out of other schools. Parents like new features, like more teaching assistants for kids with special needs, a new after-school option and an early morning drop-off (some staff work extra hours for free to make the early drop-off option happen).
Parents also like Kump, who became principal in 2011 after working as a teacher and literacy coach at PS 58, also on Staten Island. Since then, PS 26 has become one of the city's most improved schools in English language arts test scores. Kump has a knack for helping ordinary teachers aim higher and, in some cases, break down their own resistance to learning.
She has, for example, adopted the ambitious Math in Focus program, even though it was a challenge to re-train her all-female staff, some of whom are admittedly math-phobic. ("We weren't brought up on this type of math," she said.) After taking stock of math tests, for example, the instructional coach deduced that teachers might be avoiding tricky word problems, so she created a workshop in that area.
To encourage professional growth, staff members launched a schoolwide focus on "growth mindsets," the idea put forth by psychologist Carol Dweck that we can increase our brain's capacity to learn and solve problems. The school is also committed to the Leader in Me program, based on Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Some teachers have been as affected by these habits as the students have, said the administration.
Math in Focus requires a high level of student involvement and self-assessment during lessons. We saw 4th-graders use strips of paper to study angles during a lesson, and 2nd-graders hold small wipe-off boards in their laps so they could break numbers down into subcomponents to solve subtraction problems. Kids clip a clothespin on one of three colors on a notecard to signal to teachers how much help they need on math problems; if the clip is on green, they feel able to work on their own.
"Math is sometimes frustrating," said a 5th-grader, "but you have to work through it to understand it." When children need extra practice on a concept, like fractions, they work on pages printed from a website called EngageNY. "We don't believe one math program is the answer to everything," said Kump. And to keep kids from "hiding" in group settings, teachers use a mix of group and independent work.
Kump has also hired a science teacher to make sure kids study science three or four times a week, which frees classroom teachers to focus on math, reading and other subjects in more depth.
Teachers run parent workshops and post short videos online for parents who can't make it to meetings in person. Teachers also make parents aware that if they engage in casual, negative conversations about math, it may undermine what their children are trying to learn. In the school's highly rated Quality Review a few parents shared how learning new math strategies "has streamlined the support they provide their children at home."
One downside at the school is that there is no full-size gym, and some classrooms are far from the bathrooms. Special activities for students include theater and glee club.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: The school's large special education population is ably served in two self-contained classes that mix ages. Some children leave class for extra help with a teacher. Children with serious special needs receive support from paraprofessionals who work one-on-one with kids. A parent who pulled her son out of a program designed for autistic kids to put him in PS 26, said, "My child is mainstreamed beautifully here. He's in general education with a paraprofessional."
ADMISSIONS: Neighborhood school.(Lydie Raschka, January 2015)Read more