The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Q's School Tool: Part 3: PS249 - The Caton School

In the past couple years of being a dude with a tot, the Q has heard a lot of talk about a lot of schools. I’ve heard such Brooklyn and NYC insider school shorthand as “Community Roots,” “Blue School,” “BNS,” PS10,” “St. Anns,” “Packer” "107," "School of Inquiry," "Friends," "Free School," "Greene Hill," "Coop School," "9," "11," "New American Academy," mentioned literally dozens if not hundreds of times. But, and this is a really big but, in all that time I’ve heard almost ZERO talk about PS249, the super cute looking school known as The Caton that’s tucked into the fabric of The Parade Ground along Caton at Marlborough Road. And what's nuts about that is that it's actually in District 17, the very district that "The Q at Parkside" is located within. There had to be a story here. Haunted? Restricted for those south of Caton only? Reserved for people who don't play at the Lincoln Road Playground? I mean, there must be a reason for the dearth of info, right?

As a crow flies, as a bike rides, or as a ball rolls, the school is definitely closer than any public schools to me, save PS92/LGCS and Explore Charter School.. And it gets a pretty darn impressive 9 out of 9 on the “satisfaction" index on School Book, the helpful but limited NYTimes schools blog and data machine. In fact, of all the data on that blog, I find myself drawn to that satisfaction number more often than any other. I find it hard to read a lot of the data provide by DoE and other sources in general, and if you look closely you'll notice that some schools that parents have practically drooled over don't score particularly high in various metrics. In fact, teachers whom I trust don't have a lot of faith in a lot of testing metrics either. (Interestingly, on our eventual school tour, Mrs. Q and I did have an awesome encounter with an enthusiastic first year science teacher at The Caton, whom I'll bet the kids adore, named Mr. Gonazales, who said the following: "the kids take the test at the end of the third grade year and it's awesome. All year long we're learning stuff that they're going to be tested on, but they don't need to know that. That's MY job. The common core is AWESOME. I wish I had it when I was coming through." Refreshing, given all the negativity about testing you hear. One man's opinion of course, but refreshing nonetheless.

But yeah, back to that "Satisfaction Index," which is truly remarkably high at PS249. I mean a 9 is higher than almost all the schools you'll see on the site! And after all is said and done, don’t you want to go to a place where parents and kids and teachers and administrators are happy, more than anything else? Food for in maybe I’m naïve, but I’m pretty sure my daughter is going to learn anywhere she goes. She seems super curious already (oy vey, is she curious) and like DYING to learn stuff every day. Every night this week she wants to play this "game" which is basically a test, these cards that ask all these questions, and she wants to get them all right, and I can barely keep up in fact, so I’m mostly just hoping that she will be happy to go to school every day, that she will make friends, that the teacher will be warm and encouraging and not hold her back or make her feel bad, that her friends will come from many different backgrounds, that she will have interests both in and out of school, that she will have friends both in and out of school, that she will begin to show us what are the things that she is most interested in so that we can help her find the right teachers and classes and extracurriculars, be it tennis or cello or dance or soccer or poetry or existentialist Dadaist deconstructionist jello sculpture.

The radio silence at The Caton was bugging me, so when I found out a friend on my street has a son who attends PS249, and she seems happy with the school, I peppered her with questions over the last year and when she told me there was a big Holiday Show last December I jumped at the chance to bring my family and help them raise some money and see the school on the inside. It was a b-l-a-s-t to see all the kindergarteners on-up dancing and singing and playing Suzuki violin and African drums in the remarkably well-maintained auditorium, and my curiosity was only stoked by the scene. Clearly, the on-site dance instruction is an important part of the school as is the collaborative relationship with outside arts groups from Ifetayo to Juilliard. All good.

But unlike other schools that have entered the (how-do-I-put-this?) middle-class-integration-conversation, PS249 is clearly a school that’s running on all its cylinders, but off the digital-zeitgeist radar, because try as you might you just won't find this school talked about in the Montessori-Maple-Street-Progressive-Nursery-School-Circuit. Period. It's fully subscribed and well-liked, and for whatever reasons or non-reasons it's administration doesn’t consider it a priority to “reach out” to new families in the neighborhood. This is something that middle and upper middle class families may have a hard time understanding. In fact, I know they do. More than one parent I know have been so put off when trying to arrange a conversation with a principal or find out about a tour or open house at non-reaching-out local schools, that they ENTIRELY WRITE OFF A SCHOOL BEFORE THEY EVEN VISIT IT (or in one case a mom wrote off public school all together) because they're not getting the kind of customer service they'd expect from a school that will be serving their kid and family. Now, that might sound really silly to an outside observer, but I can assure you that parental nerves can get pretty frayed, so try not to judge too harshly. My experience with getting a tour at PS249 might speak to why it IS important to keep at it, parents, when trying to find a school nearby that's appropriate for kindergarten. I'm told that once I get into a school I'll be happy and engaged in it and won't want to be bothered sharing all this, so I'm trying to get it all out there NOW when it still seems to matter! So allow me tell you what went down.

After going to the fun Caton School Holiday Spectacular last December, I started calling pretty regularly to find out when there would be an open house to check out their pre-K and  kindergarten. This I determined was the best method to get a tour, since there wasn't a clear sign up on the PS249 website.  Maybe I got a bit lazy, but I really thought I was staying on top of it, calling every couple weeks. Somehow though, I missed the only Open House they had all Spring. Bummer! When I called a couple weeks ago saying I had a girl who was pre-K age and I'd like to put in an application and list it on my top 12 choices, but not having  met any teachers or principals, I felt funny about that. I was informed that all I had to do was "get accepted" and then I could take a tour. Well, I thought, isn't that backwards? Don't you look at the menu first and then put in your order? I mean at this point I'd been on some other tours (at schools in other districts even that I hadn't much of a chance of getting into, but even there it was really easy to sign up for the tour and the process was simple and clear and...well, I figured if I wanted to see PS249 I was going to have to be a bit dogged and just see it through to the end. So, I called the principal's office. And they asked who I was, and I didn't say I was a blogger cause I just wanted to be a parent and see how that would go, and so I ended up getting passed to the Parent Coordinator, and Miss Mackey was nice but gave me the same story as above, and I said I'd really like to talk to the principal, a beloved lady named Miss Brown, and she said if I insisted I'd have to stop by the school and fill out a request slip, and I said really? I have to fill out a paper form? and she said yes that's the procedure, and like I said I was going to see this through to the end, so that's exactly what I did the next day riding over on my bike on the way to work, and the security guard looked at me kinda funny and I asked to see Miss Mackey who came out and seemed sort of surprised to see me, like she couldn't believe I actually followed through, but then I made a joke about how I forgot how to make a cursive Q and pretty soon we were all cracking up, and about 10 minutes after I left I get a call from Miss Mackey asking if I wanted to come back tomorrow with my wife to take a tour of the school.

Bingo. I'm in! It appeared that just like people had told me all along, taking some initiative was paying off.

Mr. Gonzalez from PS249's Website
And the next day at 9am sharp Mrs. Q and I biked over with Little Miss Q's little toddler sister and had an absolutely gay old tour and time of it with Miss Mackey, checking out a bilingual pre-k class and meeting Mr. Gonzalez the popular science teacher and touring the cheerful halls, the delightful auditorium and classic school gym and cafeteria, hearing about how bi-lingual Spanish-English education is a BIG component to the school and probably explains the near 50-50 mix of students with Hispanic and non-Hispanic backgrounds. The school is not entirely "poor," an 85% free school-lunch population is hardly the highest in the neighborhood. The vibe is entirely friendly, and while no one is going to accuse the school of progressivism, neither should anyone from the outside accuse this "A" rated school of being a failed, failing, lagging, loser, unfriendly or troubled school either. You simply must experience it for yourself, and if you live nearby I highly encourage you to consider it. Even the building itself, built in the 1940s by the highly esteemed firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, has many of the features that you may remember as a child, and I suspect that more than a few of you will feel truly nostalgic upon entering. If for that alone, you should take a tour.

PS249, The Caton School. Another thumbs up from The Q, and I hope you'll share your experiences here.

Other posts in the series:

Part 2: Lefferts Gardens Charter School
Part 1: The Essay on Brooklyn and District 17 Kindergartens


The Snob said...

Had a similar runaround with 249, which does look like a lovely school. We stopped by on the first day of applications for kindergarten and they literally told us to come back tomorrow. Also, The Caton school only went up to 3rd grade until this year, but you'd have to be in the know to find out that's changed.

schooling said...

I was informed that all I had to do was "get accepted" and then I could take a tour. Well, I thought, isn't that backwards? Don't you look at the menu first and then put in your order?

And so your adventure with the Department of Education begins.

Malika Green said...

We are moving to the district at the end of June. We heard great things about the Caton from friends, this blog, and researching online. I called to get on the waitlist for PreK and got yelled at and hung up on. What do I do? This discouraged and appalled me. I have reached out to the parent coordinator so hopefully she can help us out.

AnnMarie said...

Hi, Q! Do you have any more recent info on this school? It is my zoned school, and when I called to ask about tours, I was told to keep calling every few weeks, as they'll have one eventually this spring. I'm afraid I'll miss the tour, so what to do? I would LOVE to speak with someone whose kid attends... no one in my building actually sends their kids there (that I know of) even though it's our school!