STAR Academy-P.S. 63
MANHATTAN NY 10009 Map
STAR Academy-P.S. 63
Extended PK hours offered: Yes
Some schools face setbacks and see only hardship ahead; others see opportunity. STAR Academy-PS 63 is a shining example of the latter, a school where tireless teachers and administrators have found a meaningful new way to connect with a high needs population of kids and families without sacrificing academic rigor. The result? Test scores are rising, kids are being nurtured and classes feel alive.
Former special education teacher Darlene Cameron became principal in 2007 and has worked hard to make the school more inclusive, converting almost every classroom to ICT (integrated co-teaching) rooms that mix special needs and general education students with two teachers, one with a degree in special ed. Assistant Principal Jodi Friedman, who gave us our tour, previously taught at the school for seven years, and continues to teach 4th-grade science. She serves as the school’s math coach and together with Cameron spearheaded an ambitious revamping of the school’s academics in anticipation of the implementation of Common Core academic standards.
Over the course of two summers, teachers re-educated themselves in the “new math,” eventually creating in-house assessments, a data-tracking system for student growth and even writing their own math curriculum. “When you know your content well enough to plan it,” Friedman said, “you really look at student work and see their strengths, misconceptions, how to move them.”
After a citywide plummet in Common Core–aligned standardized test scores in 2013, STAR was one of a handful of schools that saw their numbers rebound in 2014. Word problems, a previous deficit, now form the core of the school’s math approach. In a kindergarten class, children glued goldfish crackers to grids to add together the correct number of snacks, while 1st-graders tackled doubles facts in groups using beads after reading the story Grandma’s Necklace.
Each day, children have one 45- 60-minute period of teacher instruction and group work in math plus a second 20-minute period of math games and skills. Two days a week, kids of mixed grade levels work together in math stations.
For English language arts, teachers use the Teachers College Reading and Writing programs, supplemented with phonics and shared texts. In social studies the focus is on “big concepts,” Friedman said, noting that older students are encouraged to write about weighty topics such as immigration and the Holocaust. During our visit, a lively class of 5th-graders divided into two groups, scouring through articles to prepare for a debate on “Pets in Schools.”
As in math, ELA scores have jumped, an improvement that Friedman credits in part to a schoolwide literacy program that takes place during the first half hour of each day. Advanced students may also use that morning time to learn the ukulele with the school’s music teacher, engage in extra arts enrichment or learn gaming and coding in technology club.
All students take art, gym and science several times a week, and learn to play the keyboard. First- through 5th-graders also dance once a week through a partnership with Notes in Motion. STAR offers full-time, free after-school for k–5, and pre-kindergartners may participate in a fee-based after-school program through Notes in Motion until 6pm each day. Like the rest of the school, the pre-k program is small, with two classes of 13 students each at the time of our visit.
Nurturing students emotionally as well as academically is an overarching theme at STAR, which stands for self-managed, team-player, accountable and respectful—the makings of an ideal student. Schoolwide jobs like “recess buddy” and “newscaster” are a very real way of giving kids responsibility and helping them work on important social skills. Instead of a “time-out” room, the school has a “Responsibility Room,” where students are encouraged to work through emotions and recognize the difference between a big problem and a small one.
At the time of our visit, much of the 100-year-old building’s façade was under restoration, which caused some water damage and necessitated the playground equipment being covered, although kids still play in the yard, Friedman said. The school shares the building amicably with The Neighborhood School, using the fourth floor, while Neighborhood is on the third. Both schools share the second floor, cafeteria, gym, library and auditorium.
Not all teachers have been happy with the school’s instructional shifts, according to school surveys, and Friedman acknowledges that there have been some growing pains and turnover. “Everyone needs to find their perfect fit,” she said. “We are a diverse school, and we need people who understand our school culture.”
Like many District 1 schools, STAR Academy has long struggled with enrollment and attendance. Students travel from all five boroughs to attend, and many families are in temporary living situations, creating an ever-shifting student population. In addition to an attendance team comprising teachers and counselors, outside caseworkers help STAR families find real solutions to getting kids to school and on time, like arranging busing when possible—or even giving them alarm clocks.
SPECIAL EDUCATION: Nearly all classes are ICT (integrated co-teaching). Self-contained classes have been phased out. An effort is made to support all students—and not to let learning differences hold them back; for example, someone with writing difficulties might have a designated "scribe" to help them express ideas. "You may have a kid who can only write at a kindergarten level, but who can think at a very high level," Friedman said. STAR has a guidance counselor, psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist and social worker for students and families.
ADMISSIONS: District 1 choice. (Aimee Sabo, February 2015)
At a glance
Number of Students 203
Average Daily Attendance 94%
Safety & vibe
How many teachers say bullying is a problem at school?NA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers say order and discipline are maintained in the school?100% 81% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
ARE CLASSES BIG?
Number of students in an average kindergarten classNA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Number of students in an average fifth grade classNA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
DO TEACHERS LIKE THE SCHOOL?
How many teachers say the principal is an effective manager?96% 80% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many teachers would recommend this school to other parents?NA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many students are chronically absent?19% 23% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam
Percent of 3rd, 4th & 5th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state ela exam
Percent of 4th graders who scored 3 or 4 on the state science exam
Does the school encourage family involvement?
How many parents say they were invited to an event at the school at least 3 times in the last school year?NA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Do parents like the school?
How many parents would recommend this school to other parents?NA NA CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Special ed & ELL
How well does this school serve students with disabilities?
This school does not offer self-contained classes.
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:0% 8% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of self-contained students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:0% 2% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
This school offers team teaching (ict).
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:11% 19% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of ICT students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:17% 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state math exam:NA 17% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
Percent of SETSS students who scored 3 or 4 on the state ELA exam:NA 9% CITYWIDE AVERAGE
How many parents say students with disabilities are included in all activities?
How many teachers say students with special needs are educated in the least restrictive environment appropriate?
How many parents of students with ieps say this school offers a wide enough variety of services and activities for their children’s needs?