Sunday, March 20, 2011

Give threatened Bronx middle school one more chance, supporters say

Wednesday, March 16th 2011, 4:00 AM
Sandra Thomas (l.), with grandchildren Nyree and Chantel Raymond in front of MS 391.
Florescu for News
Sandra Thomas (l.), with grandchildren Nyree and Chantel Raymond in front of MS 391.
A struggling Bronx middle school that was shuttered twice has again landed on the possible closing list - but parents hope the city will take a different approach this time around.
Middle School 391 in Tremont, the Bronx, is one of 33 schools the city will either pour resources into to improve - or shut and restructure.
MS 391 parents insist they are making progress - despite low test scores - and the city shouldn't pull the plug.
"It used to be that was the middle school you didn't want to send your child to," said Sandra Thomas, PTA secretary, whose granddaughters Chantel, 12, and Nyree, 11, attend MS 391.
"The school has transformed as far as culture and community and safety."
In the mid-1990s, the school, then known as MS 137, was shut down for low academic performance. It reopened a year later as MS 321 with a new principal and many new teachers. When scores didn't go up, it was phased out and reopened as MS 391 in 2000, again with a new principal and an almost entirely new staff.
"It's like a circus," said Vic Madho, who has taught special education at the school since 1989. "The school is far better now. It's the best I've seen it."
MS 391 is on a federal list of low-performing schools. It qualifies for up to $2 million a year for three years, if the Education Department picks it as a so-called "transformation" school. The other options are to fire the principal and half the staff - or close.
Parents credit a new principal with energizing the school. Two years ago, it got an A on its report card; staffers earned $3,000 in bonuses each under the city's school incentive program.
Like many city schools, test scores plunged last year after the state raised standards. Only 11% of students at MS 391 read at grade level last year, down from 43% the previous year.
Staffers want the chance to prove themselves this year.
Elizabeth Taitt pulled her eldest daughter, Shenice, out of MS 391 in 2008. By last year, there had been enough improvement that she enrolled a younger daughter.
"She is in a safe environment," the mother of five said. "There is still room for improvement, but with the necessary funds, they could turn it around."
Education officials plan to make a final decision about the schools on the possible closing list by April 30.
With an 86% poverty rate, the school has little PTA funding and is more needy than most: 8% of students are homeless, compared with 4% citywide; 26% need special ed services, compared with 16% citywide; and 28% speak English as a second language, compared with 15% citywide.
"All we're asking is that the DOE back this school up and let it go further instead of stopping us now," Thomas said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

MS 391 shares the same building with TAPCO. TAPCO was rated the #1 school in the City in the 2010 citywide report cards. MS 391 should follow TAPCO's example.

First, do not allow teachers to fail students ... period !!! It doesn't matter if students do any work or not, students are not allowed to fail. That solves your graduation problem. No failing students equals 100% graduation. Secondly, fire/threaten all teachers who do not follow this approach. Thirdly, give credits to students for classes never taken.

Turning MS 391 around is simple as pie. Just follow TAPCO's approach. It works.