SOUTH BRONX — To help boost the South Bronx's long-struggling neighborhood schools, the parent council in District 7 made a bold choice last year — to “un-zone” the district.
As a result, parents of incoming kindergartners and new students can now apply to any elementary in their part of the district — now divided into north and south regions — rather than just the zoned school nearest their homes.
“The bottom line is that everybody can still apply to the zoned school across the street,” said Neyda Franco, president of the Community Education Council in District 7, which includes the neighborhoods of Port Morris, Mott Haven, Melrose and the Concourse.
“But now," Franco continued, "they can also apply to schools with programs that are doing better than others.”
More options, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean better ones.
Last year, only a quarter of the district’s third-through-eighth-grade students passed the state English tests, compared to half of students citywide. About 40 percent of the district’s students passed the math tests, while 60 percent of students did so citywide, according to Department of Education figures.
And one of the neighborhood's elementary schools, the Performance School on Concourse Village West, is up for a closure vote this year.
But look closely and you’ll find jewels in the district.
P.S. 5, a Port Morris elementary school that is adding a middle school and earned a B on last year’s DOE report card, targets its many non-native English speakers for intensive after-school and Saturday tutoring, said Principal Mary Padilla.
All students receive in-class computers, older children can join the basketball team or a volleyball program, and the community is invited in for read-alouds, writing parties, multicultural nights and more.
“Although we are a struggling district,” Padilla wrote in an email, “the educators in this district care about our students, strive for excellence and prepare all our students to be college and career ready.”
Even schools that stumble have something to offer, parents say.
Teresa Hamilton sends her daughter, Maniya, to kindergarten at P.S. 369, which the city considered closing this year, but ultimately left off the shutdown list.
Hamilton said the staff is easy to reach and attentive, sending home nightly assignments and weekend reading books for Maniya, who feels comfortable at the school and is learning quickly.
Still, some of the district’s most sought-after schools are charters, such as Kipp Academy Elementary and the Bronx Charter School for Children, where more than 1,000 students applied for 60 spots in a recent lottery, according to the school website.
District-wide, more than 5,800 families applied for about 1,100 seats in a dozen charter schools last year, creating a more than 4,700-student waitlist, according to the NYC Charter School Center.
The recent un-zoning of the public schools gives an added measure of choice in the district, which means parents have more, not less, responsibility to ensure their children are learning, Franco, the CEC leader, said.
“If you hold people accountable and make sure your child gets what they need,” Franco said, “no matter how much the school is failing, your child will succeed.”
Here are some of District 7's notable elementary schools:
P.S. 5, Port Morris School, 564 Jackson Ave.
This Port Morris elementary is expanding to include a middle school, and in the fall of 2012, it added its first sixth-grade class. An iZone school, students receive laptops, and staff are pushed to integrate technology into lessons. The school’s popular principal, Mary Padilla, has led the school for more than a decade.
P.S. 25, The Bilingual School, 811 E. 149th St.
The city’s first bilingual school, P.S. 25 has made strides since Principal Carmen Toledo took the reins five years ago. Last year, the school earned an A on its annual DOE report card, though still just more than a third of students passed the state English exams. As an added bonus to its bilingual and dual-language programs, many students feed into M.S. 223, one of the district’s top middle schools.
Academic Leadership Charter School, 677 E. 141st St.
Students at this A-rated charter, which opened in 2009 and shares a building with P.S. 65, bested the district and citywide averages on its state test scores last year by wide margins. Longer school days mean students get three hours of reading and writing and an 90 minutes of math each day, along with extras like Spanish or drama.
Bronx Charter School for Children, 388 Willis Ave.
With an extended school day and year, as well as after-school tutoring and summer programs, Bronx Charter School for Children offers lots of instructional time. The school believes in hands-on, experiential learning, and offers field trips and full-time science, art, physical education and music teachers.
Kipp Academy Elementary, 730 Concourse Village West
This charter only opened in 2009, but it branched out of the nearly two-decades-old Kipp Academy Middle School, the first New York outpost of this high-achieving nationwide chain. Kipp schools are known for their discipline and rigor, which tend to produce strong results.