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.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Q's School Tool: Part 5: PS705 Brooklyn Arts & Science Elementary School

The Q was gonna save this school for after I interviewed the principal Sandra Soto, but the New York Times, paper of record, the Old Grey Lady, home of All the News That Fit To Print, forced my hand. There, staring out at me from the Real Estate section, was a picture of a woman whose name I recognized. She's Kelly Bare, an editor at The New Yorker. But that's not how I recognized her name. After attending a tour of the elementary school PS705 (Brooklyn Arts & Science), I received a nice follow-up note from her, as did everyone on the tour. It was extraordinarily well-written, and included enough personal anecdote to make it feel personally sent. It matched the warm inviting messages I'd read on the local listserv, and she made the school sound so exciting and innovative one had to wonder - could this school be for real, right here in District 17? Or was it some sort of marketing mirage?

The fact is, I DID think the school seemed nice. I visited on March 8 and liked the vibe immediately. The building's a yawn, but whatevers. And yes, the north Crown Heights neighborhood, on the other side of the Museum, is not exactly a stone's throw from those of us for whom The Q at Parkside is our hometrain, though the S (shuttle) would undoubtedly come in handy in the winter. But then again, I've come to view any District 17 school as pretty much within my notion of a "local" public school. This is basically my conclusion given that I'm not thrilled about my absurdly gerrymandered zoned school - Jackie Robinson 375 - or the school I'm actually nearest to, PS92. (More on those later, when I a) finally get to speak to leadership at 375 and b) find out who'll be leading PS92 next year upon the retirement of the longtime and capable, though not-terribly-welcoming, principal Diana Rahmaan. Speaking of District 17, not for nothing, given the extraordinary hoopla that exploded on this here blog regarding D17's superintendent, one could be forgiven for wondering whether some districts get a bad name for good reason! Sounds like she may be a goner soon too. Who knew a blog post could ignite such a firestorm?)

However, I've learned enough to know that a school's culture has much more to do with its leadership, teachers, and parental involvement than any arbitrary assigning of supervisors or districts. Much ballyhooed District 15 may have many good schools, but the defining fact of the district is its relative affluence and general high-educatediness of its parents. After all, it's not surprising that since Brownstonerites have become the dominant culture in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, even Windsor Terrace and South Slope etc., their schools have finally and fully begun to reflect that culture demographically, even though large numbers of kids from those areas still go to private schools. And so, in a matter of 20 years or so, a couple dozen schools in District 15 have now become "acceptable" alternatives to private for many middle-upper income parents, where not so long ago they would have shunned the same schools. So much of it is word-of-mouth and a bit of lemming follow lemming. But for a district that not so long ago was ALL about PS321 for picky parents, that's a HUGE change in perception.

While a lot of my peers seem discouraged and demoralized about not being zoned for a prized school, I continue to be astonished by the breadth of decent offerings I've encountered, both here and in neighboring districts. The list of schools that parents passionately trumpet throughout the borough is long and getting longer. There are at least a dozen schools that, either on first-hand observation or reliable recommendation, I would feel happy to seeing Little Miss Q enter into kindergarten, and hey, if it didn't work out there's always the option to transfer. Really. Scouts honor. And yes, as I've noted before, you CAN get in to many of them, with persistence, patience and particularly if you aren't rigid about this oft-heard refrain "either I get into Brooklyn New School or I'm moving to New Jersey." Frankly, if you want to move to New Jersey, I say go ahead. If the difference between suburban New Jersey and central Brooklyn is "six of one, half dozen of the other" to you, then why NOT live in the leafier commuter towns of the Garden State? Me I don't see how the same person can consider wanting to live in the two of them in the same lifetime, but I guess I'm the closed-minded one now aren't I? Smiley Face emoticon here.

Back to PS705...so the article in the Times did a pretty good job of spelling out the realities for most middle/upper income parents. But by the sheer fact of lending the Times name to Kelly Bare's own endorsement of the school, in one day, I kid you not, the school has gone from up-and-coming to fully desirable. Why? Because parents are looking for someone or something to legitimize a school, to give it a reasonably reliable thumbs up. That Ms. Bare works at The New Yorker, and her husband books bands for the Jimmy Fallon show, makes it all the more legitimate, right? Hey I'm not being sarcastic here. I like hanging out with people doing interesting things as much as the next Brooklynite.

(Reality check. That some of us can even talk about moving from place to place to find a good public school is entitlement in the extreme. I mean the majority of people have little choice over where they live, particularly if they're living in a subsidized or stabilized apartment. I'm reminded of the relative freedom of many of my peers these days, as I helped launch an international cultural exchange program at work, and one of the things that strikes home when trying to get people from Pakistan and China and Lebanon and Congo to the U.S. for a month, is that the vast majority of the world's people can't just up and go anywhere - at all. Traveling, and choosing one's place to live, is a pretty darn upscale privilege.)

Bottom line, much as PS770 (New American Academy) was given a thumbs-up by the NY Times, PS705 now gets its own Sulzberger star. Mrs. Q and I liked 705 a lot, we dug the principal Sandra Soto, we liked that music and dance and art are part of the of day-to-day curriculum. Most of all, I liked that we were welcomed and our questions treated like they mattered. It's really not that hard to win me over. Really. A smile, a warm reception, a "come be part of our family." If on top of that the principal is principled, the teachers caring, the facilities decent and the other parents seem active and interesting (they certainly seemed so the day I toured the school, helping out in the classroom, fundraisers, playing music and leading the tours), I mean, that's a pretty nice place to start. Screw the demographics and test scores. It's kindergarten, after all, not medical school.

Below, I've excerpted some lines from the email I got from Bare after the tour. What great marketing by a PTA! I've left out some names for privacy, but I think since it was sent to all I'm not letting any cats out of bags. I think she does a great job of capturing the spirit of a school trying to get off the ground with enthusiasm and a willingness to court parents to come. The school's just a year old after all - there was always the chance that it would die for lack of interest. One assumes that zoned kids get in first of course, but there's usually room for some persistent outsiders, even at popular schools. Though the number of persistent outsiders may have just grown substantially with the flick of a wrist of a deliverer of papers. The type that fit snugly in blue plastic bags.

Dear Friends,

Thanks for your interest in PS 705. You're getting this note because you attended our March 8 tour.  I am the mother of a 705 Pre-K student and our PTA president, and I'm taking the liberty of writing you to share my family's story and give you a little more information about the school.

Our family is so happy at 705 and so honored to be a part of the school's inaugural year. My son is learning so much and enjoying every minute, whether he's conducting an experiment to see what seeds need to sprout, mixing colors and making animal puppets in art class, building pyramids and wrapping mummies to learn about ancient Egypt, listening and moving to "Peter and the Wolf" (then acting it out with a classmate on a playdate!), counting in English, Spanish and Swahili, creating an African museum in his classroom, or just playing with blocks or riding trikes in the gym. We love the art, the music, the dance, the dual-language program, the classroom experience, and, most of all, the people who make up the school community: the other children and their families, our talented teachers and administrative staff, and our fearless leader, Principal Sandra Soto.

Our PTA has had a fun and rewarding year so far, getting to know one another, brainstorming how we can support the administration, and, yes, beginning to raise some money to support our school's many enrichment programs. With the help of some talented parents with legal expertise, we are pursuing 501(c)(3) status, which we feel is an important first step toward providing a robust stream of financial support for the school.

I'm also on the school leadership team, along with a really vibrant group of teachers and parents -- some of whom are also educators -- and I am proud to say that we have recently completed our comprehensive educational plan for the 2013-14 school year and are beginning to lay the groundwork for implementing it. It feels fantastic to be part of an organization that is well, so organized...and working so effectively toward achieving its goals. Principal Soto is building a really powerful formula for success by hiring gifted, caring teachers and empowering and supporting them, forming strategic partnerships with community organizations, and opening arms wide to parental involvement. PS 705 parents feel welcomed, heard, and appreciated for the unique talents they have to share. We have been able to harness parent contributions in many different ways -- much like the school's overall philosophy of "discovering the gift in every learner."

And in case you haven't been googling us lately, the word is out!

Insideschools has featured us on their homepage as a noteworthy new school, and given us a nice writeup:
http://insideschools.org/elementary/browse/school/8191

DNA info reported on how happy families are with the school:
http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20130211/prospect-heights/new-schools-win-acclaim-prospect-heights-crown-heights

We've had a couple shout-outs from Joyce Szuflita of NYC School Help:
http://www.nycschoolhelp.com/blog/2013/1/31/interesting-programs-in-district-17.html
http://www.nycschoolhelp.com/blog/2012/11/15/i-was-a-new-school-parent.html

And people are asking good questions on a thread on the Brooklynian board:
http://brooklynian.com/forum/crown-heights-and-prospect-lefferts-gardens/k-705ps-22-on-st-marks

I also want to share the good news that we have been given an additional Pre-K class for the 2013-2014 school year. We'll have 54 seats available. Your best chance of getting one of them is to rank 705 first on your Pre-K application:


Kindergarten admissions letters should be out by early April.

If you are interested in enrolling a child in 1st grade or higher, please contact the school directly: 718-230-0851. Fran in the front office should be able to help.


We're also getting moving on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/PS705

And on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/ps705pta

If you live in the neighborhood, you also may want to join the Parents for Crown Heights Schools google group, where more general discussions about neighborhood schools take place. I'd love to see this group grow and thrive, so please join!
http://groups.google.com/group/parentsforCHschools

Personally, I feel it's a rare opportunity and a real privilege to be a part of a new public school that is accessible to all, especially in a neighborhood like Prospect/Crown Heights, especially at this particular moment in time. And it is truly amazing to me how much 705 has accomplished in such a short time. I look forward to meeting or talking with you soon, and to working with our community to help PS 705 continue to grow.
 

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to thank you for these posts about schools. I am very interested in the info, though real school is still a few years off for my daughter. I also wanted to add a totally subjective totally personal observation: that I moved around yearly as a kid and went to some very crummy public schools in small towns around the country, but have 2 PhD parents and basically turned out OK. I'm a lawyer with a career that has gone just the way I want, and I can even read pretty well! I suspect the home environment and having lots of books may have more to do with anything than the pedagogical quality of elementary school. What I am more concerned about for my daughter is just physical safety while she is there. Do you check police runs to the school or any other indicators of whether there is violence in the school? I can take care of her mind, I'm more worried about the body, etc.

Anonymous said...

I believe that information for the sake of "informing" is wonderful! The problem in sharing inaccurate information for one's personal benefit can be extremely harmful. The economy has created an environment where people are desperate to help THEMSELVES- with no thought about who gets hurt when all is said and done. Public schools which were once a source of disdain, have now become a very coveted resource for those who now find their families in financial straits. So, having said this- poor children,who never had an alternative, are being pushed to the side to make way for people who once looked down on the very same schools that are being pressured to make space for THEIR children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with schools sharing space if there is room, but why is it necessary to discredit the people who have stayed the course in order to educate the students that many of the current families did not want THEIR children sitting next to in a classroom. Racial issues are not the focal point in this case. The predominant student body in these schools - charter or pubic, remains minority. People have a right to make a choice about educational needs for their children, but not at the expense of defaming and embarassing superintendents and discussing personal matters about school personnel that have no relevance to the point of having the right to attend the local school in a community. Cyber bullying is real and can be earth shattering for many. This blog has certainly represented itself as an aggressive source which will do what it feels is necessary to get what they want in the end. Those who are following this blog
closely should be wary of the motives behind this obvious determination to come out the winner in the end. Are YOU being manipulated to help certain people achieve their goals? What will happen when they get complete control? Where will your children be? Keep in mind that these schools have ALWAYS been open to the public. Certain people have made a decision NOT
to send their children to the same schools that they are bulldozing their way into now. They want things on their own terms. This attitude should make everyone suspicious of the motives behind this move to take hold of the same schools which have struggled and endured with the lack of funding which is necessary to truly help students achieve success. Those who have stayed the course are now being cast to the side for this new wave of educators who know very little about what it really takes to help struggling learners. There is nothing glamorous about the job!

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Anon 3:39. I've read your comment a couple times and I'm still not sure what you're saying. Are you suggesting that by posting info about the school's I've researched that I'm out to manipulate the system? It's an interesting perspective. I hadn't really thought of it before. Please elaborate, since you seem to want to be constructively critical.

I'm not sure what this means though:

"This blog has certainly represented itself as an aggressive source which will do what it feels is necessary to get what they want in the end. Those who are following this blog closely should be wary of the motives behind this obvious determination to come out the winner in the end."

It's a blog. It's my opinion, and I certainly do champion my own perspective, though I leave the comments free and open. So yeah, I guess you could say I have an agenda. But I make no apologies for that, and look forward to your further comments

Anonymous said...

People have a right to make a choice about educational needs for their children, but not at the expense of defaming and embarassing superintendents and discussing personal matters about school personnel that have no relevance to the point of having the right to attend the local school in a community.

What a load of B.S. writes someone who might be the superintendent of district 17 after sitting too long in the sun.

Unknown said...

THANK YOU! Finally, someone with a memory longer than 5 min.
"And so, in a matter of 20 years or so, a couple dozen schools in District 15 have now become "acceptable" alternatives to private for many middle-upper income parents, where not so long ago they would have shunned the same schools. So much of it is word-of-mouth and a bit of lemming follow lemming. But for a district that not so long ago was ALL about PS321 for picky parents, that's a HUGE change in perception."

Truer words have not been spoken. Some of the schools were great to start with (they just weren't popular) some of them had significant leadership changes and developed the staffs that attracted families to the neighborhood. The fact that they are crazy popular now is a testament to the new and long term families who supported educators of vision and hung in there when the going got tough. Their beautifully educated kids (who by the way also experienced true racial and socioeconomic diversity) are reaping the rewards.

The Snob said...

Four really weird comments on this post, but anyway, PS 705 is exactly what can happen when parents and administration dig in together. The old school here (122, I think) was shut down, and rebooted just in time for people like Ms. Bare to move in and dedicate themselves to the institution from the ground up. Bravo, I say.

The Snob said...

...and to defend for a second all those "Brownstoners" -- there are ever more community-minded people becoming parents and rejecting private schooling. It's not just finances. This is the cultural change from twenty years ago. If you want your arugula locally grown, you probably want your kids that way, too.

Kelly Bare said...

Thank you for this post! We really are thrilled with our experience at PS 705 -- I would NOT be saying as much in our paper of record if that were not the case. Also please remember that the story was in the Real Estate section. Not a lot of room to get into the nuances of what's happening at 705. One of the things we love most about 705 is that it truly reflects our beloved neighborhood. I am committed to working with the talented and dedicated PS 705 administration and incredibly diverse family base to do the very best we can for ALL our kids. There is a huge opportunity here for families from all kinds of backgrounds to come together and learn with -- and from -- each other. It's happening! Come join us.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Kelly: Thanks for chiming in. For a school that's just a year old, and part of the infamous bureaucracy of the DOE, I'm mighty impressed by your efforts and those of the principal. Good luck in all your efforts.

I'm noticing a real change in the way the mothership is treating innovation in its schools. One has to wonder whether this is partly the result of the "competition" from Charter Schools. That certainly was an argument in favor of charters, as expressed by the Charter School center and nationwide proponents. I still favor a process that works WITH unions and within the system...but maybe charters have provided the needed nudge in the right direction?

joyce szuflita said...

I think that it is the growing number of upper middle class families choosing to stay in the city rather than the charter movement that is driving the change in most of these neighborhoods. Most of these families are not looking to charter schools as an option (at least not yet). Brooklyn New School, Arts and Letters and New American Academy, all very popular options for the families who are looking for progressive education are not charter schools, but DOE programs. They are un-zoned schools and pick their kids by lottery, but more the exception than the rule.

Anonymous said...

The charter school movement is a success! Parents have bought into it with much fanfare. The reasoning behind creating charter schools is to break the hold that the U.F.T. has on the overall system. (union busting) It is a budgetary matter which will put greater responsibility on parents and allow for layman to think outside of the box in order to develop better schools via seeking funding from private organizations, challenging the current system and alleviating the red tape that it takes to rid the system of ineffective teachers and administrators. (Saving the city millions of dollars) Who can argue with that? Tenure and seniority rights will fizzle out and in most cases, rightfully so. The safety net that many DOE employees believe they have is a thing of the past!!

Anonymous said...

Joyce Szuflita says:
I think that it is the growing number of upper middle class families choosing to stay in the city rather than the charter movement that is driving the change in most of these neighborhoods.

That doesn't add up. Applications to charter schools are many times higher than the number of available seats. Meanwhile, upper middle class families are the families that chose private school.

Most of these families are not looking to charter schools as an option (at least not yet).

The numbers for total charter school enrollment will remain a long way from the 1.1 million total of kids in the public school system. That's a function of the number of charter schools that have been brought into being by their founders/creators.

Considering the difficulty in rounding up the financing, space and staff, and the fact that there's a cap on the number of charters allowed to operate in NY City, there's no doubt the charter movement will remain limited.

Meanwhile, parents with public school experience know there are a lot of lousy public schools, and they also know you don't get the full picture of any school till your child has been enrolled for a while.