“F” School Full of “A” Support

Parents and the Parent Teacher Association of Public School 8 are not as concerned about their latest “F” grade as they are about keeping their principal Seth Phillips and maintaining a well-rounded education.

“I’m not worried about grades. I’m just worried that they’ll get rid of Phillips,” said Molly Greening, who volunteers as a class parent in the school and whose daughter is in kindergarten at P.S 8.

Uproar erupted on Tuesday when the Department of Education released official grades in the School Progress Reports. P.S. 8, the only public elementary school in Brooklyn Heights, received the lowest possible grade “F.” In 2007 the school received a “C.”

Schools that receive poor grades are vulnerable to changes in leadership, among other outcomes. But parents have not been shy to show their support for their principal.

“Everyone’s rallying behind him. He’s a great principal and he’s done an amazing job at the school,” said Brian Robinson, a parent.

Phillips arrived at P.S. 8 in 2003 when student enrollment was less than 100. Now with 482 students, the school is fast reaching its capacity. An annex that will increase capacity by 150 in 2011.

Phillips has been “effective at creating an environment where children enjoy learning,” said parent Sara Doar, which has made the school so popular over the years.

The PTA’s executive committee has also publicly pledged support for Phillips.

Their unwavering support over the years is reflected in enrichment programs and teaching assistants that the PTA organizes and manages for the children.

Such programs are independently funded. This year the PTA has raised $220,000 so far, its highest ever. In the previous year it raised $110,000.

The PTA plans to hire a few more teaching assistants, but does not intend to shift its focus to assist in test-taking skills, according to Todd Glass, vice president of the PTA.

Parents raised the issue during a PTA general meeting Tuesday, though not everyone is worried.
“I honestly don’t think the PTA should shift. If anything, the test taking methodology should be improved,” said Gregory Hagin, a parent with two children at the school.

“I don’t think it’s the PTA’s job” to help children with standardized tests, Robinson said.

Principal Phillips also believes in a well-rounded education. “Test preparation will raise test scores, but it is not education,” said Phillips in a letter to all parents. “Our enrichment programs are not enrichment, they are essentials.”

But it is the test scores that are creating some of P.S. 8’s problems. Sixty percent of the grade is based on fourth and fifth graders’ test scores and their progress from the previous year. A drop in scores would worsen the grade.

Another 30 percent is dependent on P.S. 8’s overall scores in relation to 40 other schools chosen by the DOE, on the basis of similar student demographics. The remaining 10 percent is based on parent and teacher surveys.

While P.S. 8’s test scores are above average, compared with other schools with a large improvement margin, P.S. 8 can be seen as a failure.

The fall in grade is particularly surprising because the school has been receiving positive media attention in recent years. In 2006 Mayor Michael Bloomberg labeled the school as a role model. Even Schools Chancellor Joel Klein applauded the school in a July 29 news conference when the annex was announced.

If one person can turn the tide of events, most at P.S. 8 believe Phillips can.


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