P.S. 261 Philip Livingston
Lives out its social action ideals every day
Some concerns about discipline
PS 261 has an active parent body that includes lawyers, hairdressers, writers and maintenance workers. This frank-talking community embraces the friction ethnic and economic diversity can sometimes bring, believing that kids coming together from different backgrounds creates a better world.
The school welcomes children of different racial and ethnic groups, and multiracial families often seek it out because no one group dominates.
Unique to the school is a partnership with the Qatar Foundation, providing an explicit welcome to Brooklyn's Arab community, with its hub near the school. The foundation pays for a second science teacher, who weaves Arabic words into science lessons, an art/Arabic language teacher, and a partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art that focuses on the collection of Islamic art.
PS 261 encourages students to think critically about social issues. Students made pinwheels to help Syrian children affected by the refugee crisis in a dollar-matching program. Every year they re-enact Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march on Washington.
The arts have long been a hallmark of PS 261, and there's something for everyone. Kindergartners act out stories such as The Gingerbread Boy, 3rd-graders take on folktales, and 4th-graders study Greek myths in a theater arts class. Third-graders study the guitar with Harlem School of the Arts.
Some concern about discipline and order shows up on school surveys. We saw at least one overly long lesson, during which kids got restless, but most instruction seemed very focused. "We definitely have kids coming from really troubled situations," said a parent. "Some are not easy to deal with in the classroom." A guidance counselor, school psychologist, and social worker meet with struggling kids and the school is adopting Responsive Classroom methods to improve the school climate.
Parents pay for a part-time librarian and substitute teachers. They run a fee-based after-school program and offer scholarships. We saw some parents prepare cardboard Google glasses for a science lesson, while others taught a group of kids in the garden. "It's a culture that celebrates that kind of collective work and volunteerism," said parent Rachel Porter.
PS 261 attracts a large number of children with special needs and has several offerings, including self-contained classes, which take students from outside the zone, and team-taught classes.
The school was on the forefront of the "opt-out-of-testing" movement in 2015, when approximately 60% of students did not sit for state exams. Even so, teachers follow data closely to spot gaps and trends in learning. After a slump in test results during the Common Core Standards rollout in 2013, scores for those children who did take the state exams are now above the citywide average and rising. The PS 261 administration said they hoped it was a reflection of improved instruction due to increased coaching with experts in reading, writing, and math. The school's current approach to math, which includes lessons from Engage NY, is "the toughest math we've ever done," said one, and several girls and boys we spoke to on our visit said math was their favorite subject.
Jackie Allen Joseph, formerly assistant principal, replaced long-time principal Zipporiah Mills in 2016. Joseph's two children graduated from PS 261, according to a biography on the school website. She has taught grades K-5, worked as a literacy coach and has an MS in Early Childhood from Bank Street College.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: PS 261 attracts a large number of children with special needs and has several offerings, including self-contained classes, which take students from outside the zone, and ICT team-teaching classes.
ADMISSIONS: PS 261 has a small zone and often has space for students from outside the zone, amounting to roughly one-eighth of the total student body. Pre-k typically fills with zoned students and siblings. There is rarely room for new students in the upper grades. (Lydie Raschka, November 2015; updated August 2016)
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Brooklyn NY 11201