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.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Q's School Tool: Part 7: More On LGCS

Some might think I'm giving outsized coverage to the Lefferts Gardens Charter School (LGCS). But in just its first three years of existence, the school has gone through more than its topsy and turvy, and I've tried to stay abreast as best I can, seeing as I and so many of my friends have spent "outsized" time to looking at kindergarten options. LGCS shares space with PS92 on Parkside, the building that's the most obvious candidate to bear the name "Lefferts Gardens." While much has been written about Charter vs DOE schools (much of it too partisan to be taken at face value, I might add), the fact of the matter is that local parents DO have a fair number of options available, and LGCS is one of them. It's stated mission is incredibly appealing:

The Lefferts Gardens Charter School will utilize an environmental science program to develop academically motivated and civic-minded students to succeed in competitive high school and college programs. The proximity of several community-based environmental institutions provides a unique opportunity for learning that extends beyond the classroom. Graduates of LGCS will leave with an understanding of the relationship among science, the environment, and the everyday world.
In fact, having toured the school not once, not twice, but three times now, I can say with great confidence that the mission is very much the guiding principle at play. And recent additions include a full-time art teacher Maude Whiltshire (read her engaging school blog here) and a head of science curricula for the school generally. The kids sing in chorus, a throwback that touches my heart, since I remember music class in elementary school probably better than anything else. Perhaps most appealingly, they have field trips once a week (the phrase "field trip" is out-of-fashion, but you know what I mean) to dovetail with what the kids are studying in the classroom. Everyone learns American Sign Language (a useful skill by any standard, but also a great tool if you want to keep some order in a noisy classroom). The building, despite its being more than 100 years old (says so right when you walk in), is big, bright and schooly in the classic sense. It's right next to newly renovated Parkside Playground and basketball courts. It's got a big gym and auditorium. Oh, and it's walkable, a quaint and seriously sweet experience for both parent and child.

So what's the catch? Until recently, I would have said that the lack of stable, strong leadership was the big ? about LGCS. The first couple years were shaky, as might be the case at any new school, with a lot of student attrition despite a likable founding principal in the pulpit. To say that his departure was destabilizing would be an understatement. Last year was an administrative horrorshow (so say those who have the scars to prove it), as the next principal had to be shown the door and another was unable to stay beyond the year. The well-regarded teachers decided to unionize (probably a sign that something ain't quite right with management) and the Board always struck me as too small and inexperienced to deal with trauma and triage effectively. Would I have considered sending my own kid into a school with such a backdrop? Probably not. And yet every time I've visited, I've seen another thing I liked. This time, I saw the best sign of all for the school - a smart, engaged, thoughtful principal in a role he seems born for. Michael Windram, should he hit all the right notes in his first year, could really take this school somewhere special and I for one wish him the best of luck. Because no matter how you feel about charters, or our very own District 17, its controversial superintendent, or segregation in the schools, or unions, or the's the kids that matter, and kids at LGCS seem happy and challenged and willing to engage the unique curriculum, geared as it must be to the almighty "Common Core Standards" that have taken center stage in the country's education wars. FYI, the Q thinks they look just fine and doesn't get what all the hoop and la is about, but then I'm not a teacher and unqualified to judge. Windram thinks their implementation is good for his school. And I have yet to read anything in le Core de Common that makes me want to gag, like all the standardized tests kids take AFTER the learning as occurred, making them absolutely useless in the most important way, in that they don't help you adjust your teaching until after you taught. If there's a time for testing, they should be short snapshot tests in the middle of the year, or frequently enough to understand what a kid is learning, or not. We used to have pop quizzes in grade school all the time. Isn't that THOSE were for? (Listen to me, I'm turning into one of those "now back when I was a kid..." types. Learning was pretty trad where I grew up, in the heartland, but it never messed me up none, now done it?) Anyhoo, Mike is the sort of principal who will likely make you feel like you're leaving your snuggems in good hands.  I'm fully expecting the school to become a popular choice with local parents. And after all, the school was started specifically to be an option for local parents who felt uncomfortable with their other walkable options. (PS92 will get a new principal next year, so who knows. 770 has become a fan favorite. And the Explore Charter School is another reputable choice, though with a strict adherence to the basics that might turn off the "progressives." The Caton is delightful, though the gentrifiers haven't embraced it fully for some reason that I know not. I have yet to hear the good news on Jackie Robinson, but you never know. Actually, if you got the skinny please share!)

And so I say check out the new regime and see for yourself. Walk into the classrooms and you're likely to see two teachers per grade, since the school accommodates most special needs and so can augment the teacher-ratio to be able to accept Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for those needing special attention. Seems like a win all around...the popular "Children's School" in the Slope Steppes (my name for when Park Slope hits 4th Ave and sorta slides into the Gowanus Basin, then heads into the obviously sarcastically named Boerum HILL, a joke that just keeps on giving 50 years after its fabrication) for instance is highly regarded in large part for its focus on integrated learning for IEP kids. (To which I say most parents think of their young Einsteins, Didions and Rothkos as deserving of a tailored IEP of the genius genus, tailored to Albert or Joan or Mark's unique proclivities and sensitivities, of course).

Look for Michael to be doing the rounds at local pre-schools, churches and daycares. But in the meantime, check in about tours. The Q suspects you'll be glad you added LGCS to your mix of possibilities.


Anonymous said...

clarkson writes:

LGCS shares space with PS92 on Parkside, the building that's the most obvious candidate to bear the name "Lefferts Gardens." While much has been written about Charter vs DOE schools...the fact of the matter is that local parents DO have a fair number of options available, and LGCS is one of them.

Now that de Blasio, the night-mayor, has been inaugurated, that sad moment for charter schools has arrived. He and his back-from-retirement hack, the newly appointed Schools Chancellor, known as the nemesis of charter schools, Carmen Farina, will stop charters cold with new rent rules for charters sharing space with DOE schools.

Who knows what rationale is in play here? When a charter is given space in a DOE building, why in the world does the presence of a school performing the same tasks as a DOE school find itself subjected to arbitrary rent expenses?

It's not as though the excess space in a DOE school building might otherwise be rented to Walgreens or Chase Bank.

What does the de Blasio/Farina anti-charter, anti-gifted, anti-closing-failed schools mean? Nothing good for anyone, especially the kids.

It was amusing and puzzling to hear night-mayor de Blasio assert that parents would have more involvement in schools.

What the heck does that mean? Will they establish the curriculum? Standards for discipline? Homework? Paychecks for teachers? Grading standards?

Why does he think parents are excluded from public school involvement now? Every school is wide open to parents when it comes to parent/teacher conferences. Teachers are reachable. Homework can be followed by logging on to the monitoring programs at many schools. The NSA has nothing on DOE schools that provide total access to homework records to parents.

Bob Marvin said...

"the de Blasio/Farina anti-charter, anti-gifted, anti-closing-failed schools"

It's amazing how much the previous poster knows about the new administration's education policy on DAY ONE!

Anonymous said...

Bob Marvin writes:

It's amazing how much the previous poster knows about the new administration's education policy on DAY ONE!

de Blasio's stand in charter schools, the gifted program and closing failing schools are all points he's made publicly.

Meanwhile, as a parent of kids in the school system, I became aware of Carmen Farina's views. She was the head of district 15 in the 1990s. She had her sights on the gifted program, claiming that it was some kind of elitist concoction that excluded minority kids, even though the true minority kids in NY City are asian and, as a group, they're the top performers.

As you well understand, a mayor does not appoint a school chancellor with views that differ from his own, so you know that Farina was called out of retirement because she so closely embraced de Blasio's ideological vision, a vision that is so out of step that no employed big-city school chancellor was willing to take a shot at running the biggest school system of them all.

Bloomberg made one bad choice in all his appointments. He named Cathie Black as school chancellor. However, it didn't take him long to realize his mistake and replace her with Dennis Walcott, who should have been reappointed.

She's way too old for this job, and may well show how unprepared she truly is when she finds herself addressing an auditorium of parents who angrily demand charter schools.

Even though the appointment of Farina is a huge mistake, de Blasio is going to stand by her for a long long while, insisting that it takes a lot of time and effort to make changes in the school system.

During all that time, failed schools will remain open, charter schools will close and the gifted program will suffer from dilution as standards for acceptance are lowered.

It won't be the more affluent people who lose. The losers will be middle class and lower middle class kids who can't escape the municipal bureaucratic monopoly of the nearly omnipotent DOE.

Anonymous said...

Evasions from the new schools chancellor have begun:

New schools boss declines to take stand on charters

By Georgett Roberts January 3, 2014 NY Post

Carmen Fariña on Thursday visited her first school as Mayor de Blasio’s chancellor, and dodged questions about how she would carry out his promised policy to restrict charter schools.

Asked if she was for or against charters, Fariña said, “I think for or against is very strong — so stay tuned and we will have a protocol on that.”

She said changes are coming at the Department of Education but “at this moment, there have been no decisions made about any personnel issues.”

Anonymous said...

The Daily News softens the arrival of the charter-school killer:

New Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to focus on middle schools in first year
On her first full day on the job, the new city schools boss said she'll spend her first year in office focusing on the city's struggling middle schools. Fariña spent Day 1 having 'many conversations' with officials at the Department of Education's headquarters and visiting MS 223 in the South Bronx.

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In her first full day on the job, new city schools boss Carmen Fariña announced she’ll focus on the city’s struggling middle schools during her first year in office.

“I really believe if we get middle schools right, the rest is going to be a piece of cake,” the chancellor said Thursday in her first school visit — to Middle School 223 in the Bronx.

The Bloomberg administration tried for years to improve performance at middle schools, where many students fall behind, leaving them at a disadvantage when they face more challenging high school courses.


Fariña, a veteran educator and former developer of middle-school curriculum, declined to evaluate the previous administration’s efforts to target grades six through eight, but said there’s good reason to emphasize middle schools.


Fariña (second from left) announced that she will focus on struggling middle schools during her first year in office. Here, she tours MS 223 on Thursday. The Bronx middle school is considered a success.

“I think we’ve made a dent in terms of the high school graduation rates,” she said, adding that focusing on improvements starting in the ninth grade is too late. “We know by the seventh grade who’s going to graduate in the 12th grade.”

Fariña offered few details about what she is planning to do, but said she intends to appoint talented principals, spread approaches used at the best middle schools and cater to students’ needs to a greater degree.

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