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.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Q's School Tool: Part 9: PS770 New American Academy

What can the Q say? Parents and kids love this school. The teachers get universal raves from parents I've gotten to know from the playground. The principal, Jessica Saranovsky, was one of the first "master teachers" at Shimon Waronker's brave experiment in team-taught 60-kid giant classrooms, and by all accounts she's smart, hands-on, and super-accessible. If you're considering the school for pre-K or kindergarten next year, it's time to get on the ball and go check it out. Just three more open houses before the February 13 public school kindergarten online sign-up deadline. Here are the dates and times at PS 770, otherwise known as The New American Academy:

February 6 at 5:30 pm
February 11 at 10 am
February 13 at 10 am

View Larger Map

If the day's decent, it's a half hour walk, or a 10 minute bike ride from Tugboat, due east. Or take an Empire bus, or the B-12 along Clarkson, or an IRT to Utica and walk down along Lincoln Terrace Park. Think this is too far east for you, in that way that east means trouble? Just wait a couple years. With Utica the next express stop on the 3 and 4 trains, you can already see this is the next area to "pop." I'm told speculators are already buying up buildings, and yes you already see young college grads moving in out there. Lordy lordy, who would've thunk.

If you want to email Principal Saratovsky, here you go.

I've discussed the NAA a bunch in the past, so I kinda feel like I'm treading on old linoleum, but the fact is I've done a fair amount of follow-up with parents to see whether the good news of an actually strong school in District 17 (I know, quite a shock) was actually true. The Q spent a good deal of time talking to founder Waronker, whose Harvard PhD studies led him to the conclusion that the "Prussian Model" of education is too rigid and conformist and that a new "flow" needs to be cultivated. Frankly, he may be stretching the extent of New American's breaking of new ground, but he's clearly a thinker and puts nearly all the emphasis on instruction and supporting it. He's got four teachers in each grade, working together, with the master teacher making a decenter living that your average DOE teacher, via a special arrangement with the union. The team teacher deal is that rather than teaching in isolation, the four get together every morning to plan and assess and divide and conquer (well, divide and facilitate would probably be a better phrase). The school is economically diverse (yes, that's a PLUS silly) and despite being practically to Brownsville the neighborhood is not unlike Flatbush so no need to invest in a suit of armor. School buses are provided for those in district and more than 1/2 mile away.

So what's the downside? Well, for one, it's a young school, and not all the pieces are in place. The PTA is up and running, but money for the extras is tight. I know just how they feel, with my kid doing pre-K at PS705, a school even younger than 770. You really start to realize how much work goes into getting a school to the level of "established." What do you need to do that exactly? Well, you need a great principal, great teachers, a committed parent body, a decent facility, students eager to learn, and at least enough money to keep the ball rolling and retain some talent. Though a lot of times it's the principal who can retain the talent through great leadership and encouragement and support, not just the dough. You need too, in my view, a commitment to the arts and extra-curriculars and after-school, and safety, and a PTA devoted to building community and raising some money. Does 770 have those? You bet.'s a bit of a hike. Yeah, that matters. No parent who's being honest will deny it's heading the WRONG WAY! Even if it's only psychological, we're all oriented towards Manhattan, or at least downtown Brooklyn, and for years the mental calculus was to fear the east. East New York, Brownsville, even East Flatbush, seemed to be where the negative energy was. And yet, a lot of those stereotypes seem just that once you move to central Brooklyn and actually live among real people instead of watching them on the 10 o'clock news.

Look, I'll level with you. I've done my homework and PS92 and PS375 out and out suck. We need new leadership in both of them and the sooner the better. I've got plenty of info to base that on, and anyone who reads this blog knows that our superintendent for district 17 is a piece of work, and has been under investigation (I even got called for questioning.) I'm not going to lie to you...we've got a lot of work to do over here. But between the lefferts charter school, 770, 705, 249 (don't argue with me, it's a great little school and the parents who go there give it raves, it just might not be a gentrifier school...yet) AND  don't forget that tons of folks go to other schools not too far away in other districts that DIDN'T lie about their addresses, and, well, it's not really so bad as all that. 

For those craving details, here's some more on the methodology of NAA:

 1Four Person Teaching Team: P.S 770 teacher teams work with the same 60-65 students within a grade-level cohort. In addition to a Master Teacher, each team includes licensed Special Education and English Second Language (ESL) teachers. Research has shown that four or five person teams provide the optimal balance between too many and too few voices. Teams allow for transparency, positive peer-pressure, multiple perspectives, and a diverse range of skill sets. Team-based models are common across a diverse range of sectors from the military to healthcare, and are being used with great success in schools across Victoria, Australia. Education, particularly in urban neighborhoods challenged by low socio-economic status, is a complex task deserving of the same professionalism that is now standard in other sectors.
2) Looping Cycles: Looping allows for the development of trust and meaningful relationships between students, parents, and their teaching team, and have been proven to improve student learning both nationally and internationally. The relationships developed encourage greater parent involvement, student-to-student interdependence, and allows for targeted and differentiated teaching. Our students loop with their classmates and teaching team for five years, with a constant of at least one teacher each year. Moreover, looping allows the teacher/s on a team to inform new teacher members of students’ learning profiles so that instruction can begin on the first day of school without having to spend weeks to get to know students and acculturate them into the classroom. Looping also provides a powerful and organic accountability system, as each teacher team will ultimately be directly responsible for their students’ scores in the testing grades.

3) Mastery-based Career Ladder: Research has shown that a quality teacher is the greatest single determinant of student academic success. Unfortunately, teacher ability and development is often not recognized or rewarded. A career ladder provides a continuum for teacher growth that is both supported and incentivized. The TNAA four-step career ladder (apprentice, associate, partner, master) is based on demonstrated ability, culminating with the Master Teacher. P.S 770 teachers receive higher salaries than their DOE counterparts with Master Teachers earning $120,000. This attracts and retain quality teachers and ensure that the most talented teachers can remain in the classroom directly supporting student learning.

4) Multi-dimensional Teacher Evaluation System: Good teaching is complex and nuanced. TNAA teacher evaluation system draws upon a diverse range of indicators, including student testing data, peer review, and Danielson-based classroom observations to create a holistic and accurate measure of teacher performance. Our teacher evaluation will allow us to promote and reward those teachers who are effective and to remove those who are not.

5) Lower Teacher/Student Ratio: Each four-person teacher team works with a group of 60-65 students. A 15:1 teacher student ratio has been shown to increase student achievement .3-.45 standard deviation per year in grades K-210 and allows for more personalized attention for every student. By flattening our organizational structure and by redistributing external resources to the classroom we are able to have four fully licensed teachers per team.

6) Embedded Master Teacher: Each four-person team includes a Master Teacher. Earning $120,000, these highly skilled professionals provide support to all students in their classroom and serve as mentors to the three other members of their team. Master Teachers provide minute-to- minute coaching, support, and feedback and ensure best practice and appropriate rigor. Integral members of each team, they are in the classroom all day, every day. In addition to raising the quality of instruction team-wide, an embedded Master Teacher also ensures that inexperienced teachers are never left alone to “sink or swim” at the expense of student learning.

7) Five Week Summer Training Program: Our five-week summer training program begins with a week-long seminar at Harvard. Created in collaboration with Professors’ Barry Jentz, Katherine Boles and Eileen McGowan of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and Professor Baruch Bush of Hofstra University, this seminar goes beyond standard professional development to focus on in-depth communication, reflection, and listening skills. Critical for any team-based environment, these skills enable our teacher-teams to maximize their collective potential and to avoid the interpersonal pitfalls and misunderstandings that often hamper collaborative efforts. These skills are then practiced throughout the next four weeks as teams create their curriculum maps, management systems, and curricula for the school year. Our five-week summer training program forms the foundation for our professional development program that continues throughout the year. While newly formed teams will participate in the entire five-week program, returning teams participate in two weeks of summer training and in an annual school-wide curriculum planning week that takes place at the end of each school year.

8) Six-Step Hiring Process: Effective hiring and retention is the foundation of organizational well- being. The TNAA six step hiring process includes a written application, phone interview, group unit building activity, panel interview, reference checks, and demo lesson. As candidates progress through this process they are observed and assessed by parents, teachers, and administrators. This ensures that the candidates who are selected have been vetted multiple times and are a good fit for the school community.

9) Reflective Practice: Reflection is the key to improvement. We reflect as a community, as teams, and as individuals to improve our practice. In addition to the daily ninety minutes of conference time each day, every team has one and a half hours each week dedicated to group reflection.


Brent O'Connor said...

Tim - thank you for this post.

As the father of a son in pre-K, I am thrilled to have this unique and innovative school in District 17.

The headmistress, Jessica Saratovsky, is smart, accessible and practical. She is working hard to improve the educational experience for the students and families in the TNAA community.

I encourage anyone with a child going in to pre-K or already in K-3 to explore this option.

More info can be found on at:


Unknown said...

Great roundup of 770, Tim. We too have been happy with our pre-K experience at TNAA. (Technically, we have yet to enter the actual curriculum—that will happen next year with kindergarten). There are hurdles to be overcome, for sure, but I think families at 770 are excited with where the school is going. The teachers are great, Jessica Saratovsky is great, the curriculum celebrations inspiring.