M.S. 223

Transition at Tweed

New York

With federal funds lost, city sending trainees to stronger schools

Chancellor Dennis Walcott talks to teachers at M.S. 223 while principal Ramon Gonzalez looks on during a visit last week. M.S. 223 is working with nine teaching residents this year. A program to train and keep new teachers inside some of the city's most struggling schools is expanding to include better-performing schools as well. The New York City Teacher Residency launched last summer at two schools that were receiving federal funds earmarked for overhauling struggling schools. The point of the program, city officials said at the time, was to create a talent pipeline for schools that have trouble attracting teachers. But because the city and its teachers union did not agree on a new teacher evaluation system by a state deadline, the funds were cut off in January. The city is going forward with plans to double the size of the residency program anyway, but instead of sending new residents only to struggling schools, it is also directing them to schools that the city has touted as success stories. And it is picking up the bill out of the Department of Education's regular budget. The department opened the program to stronger schools in order to expose the teachers-in-training to a wider range of "best practices" and mentorship from experienced teachers, officials said. "Think, what would it actually be like if these teachers were trained at a successful school instead of at a failing school?" said Ashley Downs, the special education director at M.S. 223 in the Bronx who is helping to mentor that school's nine residents.
New York

School leaders enumerate challenges on the eve of the new year

New York

Schools that build summer "bridges" for students pay a price

Ninth-graders at PTECH work on algebra problems in May. On a muggy August afternoon last year, nearly 75 Bronx students could be found playing orchestra instruments to the tune of Duke Ellington's C Jam Blues in the auditorium of M.S. 223. They were gathered to mark the close of three weeks of arts, music, and math instruction they received through the school's first summer "bridge" program. M.S. 223 is one of dozens of city middle and high schools to invite to incoming students for summer classes meant to immerse them in school culture and prevent them from forgetting what they learned the previous year. "Summer bridge is important because we think of our model as a year-round school," said Rashid Davis, principal of Brooklyn's nascent Pathways in Technology Early College High School. "That way we’re not dealing with that summer learning loss than can go from two to four months of material, especially for high-poverty students. We can't expect them to magically come in here with the skills they need." Indeed, researchers have pegged students' regression — known as the "summer slide" — at the equivalent of two months of school or more. City officials recognize the challenge: This summer, the Department of Education is piloting a small program in the South Bronx for students who are struggling but not failing. But the funding for that program, Summer Quest, comes from private donors. Public funds, for the most part, are earmarked only for the thousands of students across the city who are required to attend summer school because of low test scores or poor grades. That means schools that develop programs for incoming students who aren't already in trouble are on their own to scrounge up funding.
New York

Bronx principal marshals colleagues around arts enrichment

Sixth-graders at M.S. 223 drew Andy Warhol-inspired portraits during summer arts enrichment program Angel Angel, 13, missed playing in seven baseball games last month so he could mentor students at his middle school, M.S. 223. But Angel, a rising eighth-grader who is also an avid guitar-player, welcomed the opportunity to forgo his usual summer activities to help 96 incoming sixth-graders at the South Bronx middle school study reading, math and music for three weeks. The summer enrichment program, which just finished its first year, is the brainchild of M.S. 223's principal, Ramon Gonzalez, who has gained a reputation as a leader in public school management since he opened the school in 2003. Gonzalez has touted initiatives to increase literacy and parental involvement to school community members throughout District 7, which is largely poor and low-performing. Now he is trying to turn District 7’s attention toward arts education, at a time when many schools are facing cuts to their art and music teaching positions. He is asking a handful of local principals to help him write a large grant to fund after school and summer school arts education at multiple schools in future years. Gonzalez said he wanted to create a free summer program for his students that would address the learning-loss that some students, particularly those from low-income families, experience between June and September. He hoped offering afternoon classes in painting, printmaking, and orchestral music — in addition to trips to Broadway shows and the Museum of Modern Art —  would bring the students back each day, even though the classes were not mandatory. Rather than try to carve $85,000 out of MS 223's tight budget, he leveraged his connections — augmented after this spring's appearance in the New York Times Magazine — to win funding. Still, selling the split schedule to donors was difficult.
New York

Explaining to middle schoolers why fair isn't always equal

Older M.S. 223 students working with the Summer Bridge program made this bulletin board to welcome the new sixth-graders. (Photo courtesy M.S. 223) School districts around the country are increasingly trying to bring special education students into mainstream classrooms. The challenges this presents — and the possible benefits — were on display last week inside a summer school classroom in the Bronx. Each summer, the South Bronx's M.S. 223 brings in as many of its rising sixth-graders as it can find for a "summer bridges" program to smooth their transition into middle school. This is the first year that the summer program has brought special education students and students learning English together into the mainstream classes. The city school system as a whole is moving in this direction — this school year, about 200 schools will begin to bring special education students at all levels into regular classes. The following year, all schools will be required to do so. M.S. 223 is not a part of the pilot, but is trying to get a head start. During the week-long summer session, each day concluded with "team and family time," where students give thanks or shout-outs as praise to other students, and apologize or call each other out for misbehavior. In a class taught by Ashley Downs, one girl called out another for relying too heavily during class time on the older M.S. 223 student working as the class' counselor. "It's like she wasn't doing the work herself," the girl complained.