BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — With crime on the decline and a mix of cultures in full bloom, Bed-Stuy may be ready to shed its tough-guy moniker.
But despite deep civic pride among old-timers and newcomers alike, the neighborhood's schools remain some of the most persistently underperforming in the city.
"In low-income neighborhoods, it really is hard to find a quality school. Unless you luck up and get into a charter school, you're stuck with this," said Sierra Tarver, a frustrated mother of three who said that finding the right fit for her children in the neighborhood has become a full-time job. "I'm looking into home schooling."
Still, there is reason to feel optimistic about central Brooklyn's struggling District 16, where new charter schools share space and ideas with a handful of other public schools in the district that are rapidly improving. Parents in the neighborhood actively shop for alternatives both inside the district and beyond its borders.
Among the most promising local public schools is P.S. 335, the Granville T Woods School in Weeksville, which earned a Blue Ribbon from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010 and an A on its most recent city report card. The school prides itself on its workshop approach to instruction, including Teachers College writing workshops that encourage even the youngest students to experiment with fiction, memoir and essay writing.
Another bright spot is the Brighter Choice Community School, which opened in 2008 to replace P.S. 304 and is currently among the top-scoring schools in the district. Founding Principal Fabayo McIntosh, a Bed-Stuy native, led her fourth-graders through the most dramatic improvement of any class in the city on standardized tests in 2011.
There's also P.S. 262, the El Hajj Malik El Shabazz Elementary School, another elementary that has seen a meteoric rise in its recent test scores. In the 2009-2010 school year, it ranked in the very top percentile in the city.
Despite dipping slightly in 2010-2011 and receiving a B on its most recent DOE report card, the slip was mostly in student progress and not performance, which remains high.
"The environment is good, the teachers are very well-trained, and I really like the school," said mom Theresa McCoy, who has twins in the first grade and whose 21-year-old graduated from the school. "I always knew I would bring them here, because my daughter did so well. If your child needs special attention, they have an enrichment program."
Unlike Brighter Choice, P.S. 262 has been a part of the community for generations. Some parents have fond memories of their own days at the school, while others said that their older children had done well there.
But Tarver, who had taken her older children to both Excellence Academy and Brighter Choice, said she preferred P.S. 262, but even that school left much to be desired.
"I sat in one of my sons' classes, and the kids are so bored, they don't even pay attention," she said. "With all of the guidelines, they have no leeway. They have to teach to the test."
Many parents like Tarver have turned to ever-growing ranks of charter schools, which continue to flock to the neighborhood in droves, including buzzed-about La Cima and Tarver's top choice, Teaching Firms of America.
Here are some of District 16's notable public elementary schools:
P.S. 335, The Granville T Woods School, 130 Rochester Ave.
This top-scoring school has many traits that make it stand out, including a National Blue Ribbon Award and several years of success under its belt. Laverne C. Nimmons has been the principal since 2003.
P.S. 262, The El Hajj Malik El Shabazz Elementary School, 500 Macon St.
This longtime community school has made major gains in the past several years. Although its DOE-issued progress report grade was lower in 2012 than in years previous, student performance remains strong.
Brighter Choice Community School, 280 Hart St.
The newest of the bunch, Brighter Choice, boasts excellent test scores and the exuberant energy of a new school. Still, the growing elementary school has a lot to prove.