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P.S. 191 Ranks as One of Manhattan's Most Dangerous Schools, State Says

By Emily Frost | August 13, 2015 3:31pm
 P.S. 191 has been designated
P.S. 191 has been designated "persistently dangerous" by the New York State Department of Education.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — A local elementary and middle school has been ranked as one of the two most dangerous in all of Manhattan based on incidents of violence from the past two years, according to the state education department. 

P.S. 191, on West 61st Street and Amsterdam Avenue, made a list of the 27 New York City schools designated "persistently dangerous" for the 2015-2016 school year. The only other Manhattan school to make the list was P.S. 123 Mahalia Jackson in Harlem. 

Over the past five years, the 490-student school has seen an increase in the number of violent and disruptive incidents, the data showed, while also seeing the size of the school decrease over the past few years.

A school is deemed "persistently dangerous" if it records 60 or more violent incidents in a year and also receives a rating of 0.5 or greater on a special index the state uses for evaluating school safety. 

That rating — called the School Violence Index (SVI) — takes into account a school's size, the number of incidents and the severity of the incidents. 

Schools can also get flagged as "persistently dangerous" if they score above a 1.5 rating on that index for two consecutive years. 

P.S. 191 came in above that 1.5 threshold in both 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, a NYSED spokesman explained, noting that data collection is done by the city DOE and the school's principal.

The most recent data regarding specific incidents provided by the state comes from 2013-2014, a difficult year for the school. Data for the 2014-2015 school year was not available. 

According to the 2013-2014 data:

► The number of violent and disruptive incidents nearly doubled as compared to the previous year — from 56 incidents to 97.

► There were 42 minor altercations without weapons, up from 23 the year before. 

► There were eight incidents of "Intimidation, Harassment, Menacing, or Bullying With Weapon(s)," up from just one the year before. 

► There were six incidents of minor altercations with weapons, compared to none the four previous years.

► The number of sex offenses without weapons, arson with weapons, assault with physical injury with weapons, and assault with physical injury without weapons all increased.

However, the school's PTA leaders and the president of Community Education Council 3, Joe Fiordaliso, believe P.S. 191 made the list erroneously due to poor data-collection methods by school staff.

They insist P.S. 191 is a safe school.

"Not once in the four years that I've been on the CEC has the superintendent ever come in front of the CEC to talk about safety issues at the school," Fiordaliso said.

Slapping this label on P.S. 191 amounts to disparaging it, and "the state should be standing up for our schools," he argued. 

The PTA said it is committed to getting the school removed from the list.

"We have not seen any changes at the school that could account for the significant increase in reported violent incidents," said PTA President Kajsa Reaves in a statement.

"We suspect the data was incorrectly entered, and call on the city and state to immediately suspend this designation and re-open the appeals process."

Once on the list, a school "must present a plan to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) for reducing incidents and increasing safety," according to the city DOE. 

The plan is due in mid-September, a DOE spokesman said. 

In the meantime, the school has already taken steps to "improve safety and build a supportive and nurturing school community," said District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul.

Last year, the principal assigned "captains" to each floor to monitor behavior and intervene with students, among other duties. The school also taught a curriculum in grades pre-K-8 called "Mind Up" that focuses on "mindfulness, self-reflection and self-regulation," Altschul explained.

This year, P.S. 191 will also add school-wide curriculum called "Second Step" that teaches social and emotional skills. The school will have a new full-time school social worker who will oversee three interns from the nonprofit Counseling in Schools, she said. 

Teachers will receive coaching in classroom management and social-emotional learning through Fordham University and the Morningside Center for Teaching Emotional Responsibility, Altschul added. 

And in each grade, a "teacher coach" — a highly-skilled educator who mentors other teachers — will guide his or her colleagues in planning and classroom management, she added.

Additionally, school safety officers from the DOE will visit the school regularly to conduct assessments and provide support. The DOE will provide professional development in de-escalation strategies, anti-bullying techniques and conflict-resolution tactics, among others, the spokesman said. 

The No Child Left Behind Act also gives students enrolled at persistently dangerous schools the right to request a transfer to another school that's not on that list, but students don't get to choose where they transfer, according to the city DOE.  

However, P.S. 191's PTA is calling on the city and state to suspend any transfer offers because they believe the designation was made in error. 

The designation is an especially hard blow to the school and its morale because parents and leaders have insisted P.S. 191 is experiencing a turnaround.

There is a new principal at the helm — Lauren Keville, who did not respond to a request for comment — and the school opened a $900,000 multimedia lab this year. 

Next year, the school will receive $45,500 from City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal for its arts programming. 

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