Brooklyn Heights, Vinegar Hill Schools Make Improvements

By Janet Upadhye on February 11, 2013 6:41am 

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Two public elementary schools dominate the DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights and Vinegar Hill educational landscape.

P.S. 8 on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, despite academic struggles in the past, has long been admired for its active parent groups, partnerships with local art organizations and innovative after-school programming.

P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill, meanwhile, has grappled with low attendance, disciplinary problems and lack of parent involvement, not to mention low test scores.

Both schools are on the rise, however, convincing local parents to take another look.

At P.S. 307, Principal Roberta Davenport has transformed her school over the past eight years. According to Insideschools, since Davenport took over the school in 2004, P.S. 307 has increasingly become a place that makes students and teachers proud.

Davenport upgraded the art room, reached out to the DUMBO arts community to create opportunities for her students and decorated formerly dim school hallways with students' work. She also cracked down on bad behavior with more suspensions.

"She changed the tone of the school," Assistant Principal Bill Diederich told Insideschools.

More notably, Davenport improved her students' math and reading scores. According to the Daily News, P.S. 307 saw one of the biggest improvements in reading and math scores in Brooklyn last year.

Still, only 27 percent of the school's students passed the state English test, and 59 percent passed the state math test last year, according to Department of Education figures.

P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 have both improved their progress report grades from C’s in the 2010-2011 school year to B’s in the last school year.

At P.S. 8, 80 percent of students passed the state's English test, and 83 percent passed the state math test in the 2011-2012 school year, according to DOE figures.

Both schools are focusing on technology to enhance student learning and raise academic performance, each adding SMART Boards — large interactive whiteboards — to classrooms to inspire students during lessons.

P.S. 8 Principal Seth Phillips said he sees his school as a success story after a few years of struggling progress report grades.

“We’re seen as an example of how a school can turn around,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and I didn’t do it alone.”

Here's a closer look at the neighborhood's noteworthy public elementary schools:

P.S. 8, Robert Fulton, 37 Hicks St.

Located on historic Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights, P.S. 8 is a well-regarded option for elementary-age students. The parent association is active and involved in organizing fundraisers, committees and volunteer trips.

According to Insideschools, the school has historically been overcrowded, but recently middle school students were relocated to a nearby high school building, giving the younger children more room to learn. A new building was also added to the school in 2011 to create more space for art and music.

The school is dedicated to extracurricular activities, including a new glee club in 2012, where students had the chance to perform popular songs like "Rolling In The Deep" by Adele and "ABC" by the Jackson 5. Other after-school activities include robotics, cheerleading, film, drama and the student newspaper.

P.S. 8 also worked with Parsons The New School for Design and the Guggenheim Museum to enhance students’ experiences in the arts.

P.S. 307, Daniel Hale Williams, 209 York St.

Located between the Farragut public houses complex and up-market DUMBO, this elementary school is “looking for an identity,” according to Insideschools.

Principal Roberta Davenport is familiar with the local community, having grown up in Farragut and attended the school herself. Last year, under her leadership, P.S. 307 had one of Brooklyn’s most-improved reading and math scores on state tests.

Parents and students say Davenport’s leadership style has been hugely effective.

And Davenport makes no apologies for keeping students in line.

"I am a strict principal," she told Insideschools. "There are certain behaviors that you can't bring into the building."

P.S. 307 also fosters burgeoning music and chess programs, and the school's new language program gives children the chance to learn Mandarin Chinese.

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