FORT GREENE — Principal Temica Francis is not giving up on P.S. 67.
When the first-time head was hired at the Fort Greene school in 2011, it was struggling with chronically poor attendance, low levels of academic achievement and a neglected building that had one functioning bathroom to serve 250 students.
It also had poor lighting, moldy ceilings and a rampant mouse problem.
Just months after Francis was hired, P.S. 67 was targeted for closure by the Department of Education.
But Francis was determined to see her school succeed.
"When I first walked in and saw the state of the building I knew it would be a challenge," she said. "But I immediately got to trying to fix things and make the school the way I would want it for my own children."
All of the students at P.S. 67 — located in a red brick building in the middle of the Ingersoll Housing Projects — are either homeless or live in public housing. Some students come to school in the winter without coats and sneak extra snacks at lunch.
Many suffer from dental problems, asthma and diabetes.
Francis noticed many children were also grieving the loss of loved ones due to illness and violence.
The Long Island University graduate created partnerships with local agencies such as the 88th Precinct and the Brooklyn Community Church to get adequate clothing donated. She wrote a grant application for funding for extra snacks and started a bereavement group at the school.
She is also working with local hospitals to get an on-site doctor and dentist at the school.
"This will help to move the academics because once your basic needs are taken care of, then the kids can learn and produce," she said.
Francis also implemented the Columbia Teachers College curriculum and oversaw the addition of new science and computer labs.
A 2012-2013 Quality Review by the Department of Education found the school to be proficient and attendance rising, according to Inside Schools.
"I am confident in the fact that we will not be closed," Francis said. "But we are still being watched.
"So we are trying to show progression and growth from the new things that we have put in place to make our school successful."
Q: What specific improvements have you made to the school since your arrival?
A: We had to redo all of the plumbing, re-tile the bathrooms, remove mold from the ceilings and replace the sinks. We also fixed the lighting, took care of the mice and installed drinking fountains for the building. When children’s basic needs are met they can get on with the business of learning.
There was also a lot of conflict between P.S. 67 and Community Roots Charter School that is co-located in the building. Space was an issue — the schools share the gym, auditorium, schoolyard and cafeteria and, at that point, people didn’t want to share.
Two years later the schools are flexible with each other and our relationship is phenomenal. They attend our welcome back to school barbecue and our students share their community garden.
Academically, the first thing we did was to enhance our teacher’s classroom practices by implementing Columbia Teachers College curriculum. We looked at professional development and gave teachers an opportunity to grow in areas of need.
We have a new science lab with animals — fish and reptiles. They are getting lab work here in a way they never had before. We also got Smart Boards in every classroom and a media center provided by Letitia James with 25 Mac computers.
Last, we tried to build community with parents. We hired a new parent teacher coordinator who has been able to bring more parental involvement. We are teaching the parents about what we do in the building and what their children are experiencing so they can help them at home better.
Q: What is your vision for the future of P.S. 67?
A: I want to be able to provide resources to the entire community; I want a doctor's office in the school, a dentist and resources to get free food.
That’s the kind of community school I’m talking about. Whatever the need is, we are here to provide it.
Q: What makes P.S. 67 special and why is it so important to you that it succeed?
A: P.S. 67 is the first African-American School in Brooklyn. It was started in 1815 to educate African-American children and was called “The African School.”
Our students are coming from a rich history and a rich culture. With this being the first African-American school there is a lot to carry. There is a weight to carry. It means a lot.
I am trying to get the students, teachers and parents to understand that and get the community to value that. And it took many years to get the opportunity to come to one building and get a free education. So for us to have to close would be a disgrace.
I am working as hard as possible to make sure that that doesn’t happen.