WILLIAMSBURG — A middle school with decades-long ties to the South Side's Puerto Rican community is turning around years of declining enrollment, officials said.
Administrators at J.H.S. 50/John D. Wells hope that the uptick is an early sign that the multi-pronged efforts of teachers, parents and staff may be paying off at a school that has historically struggled with substandard test scores and poor attendance, said principal Ben Honoroff.
"We're really excited," said Honoroff, who was brought on at the beginning of the year after the school was designated by the city as both a community school and a renewal school.
Community schools get funding to work with a non-profit, in this case El Puente nearby, to bulk up counseling and after school programs. Renewal schools are some of the lowest performing schools in the city and get funds to lengthen their school days.
"It was one of our goals...increasing enrollment and really reversing the at least eight-year trend," Honoroff said. "We halted that decline. Not only did we halt it, but we reversed."
In its heyday more than a decade ago, J.H.S 50 John D. Wells enrolled about 1,500 kids, Honoroff said.
But by 2011 there were just 413 students, according to city data. That number sank even lower to just 198 students enrolled, despite a citywide uptick in school-aged children.
And while test scores haven't come in this year, the school's already seen a significant bump in attendance and a dramatic decrease in chronic absenteeism, Honoroff said.
The "expanded learning time" — additional class hours where teachers get to build classes around their interests — has been a major draw that's helped sell the school to new students, as well as getting existing students to come to class, the principal said.
"[We offer] debate, robotics, art, music, crocheting, all of these really fun classes," Honoroff said.
"Teachers are very excited to build courses around what they're passionate about and when their excited it's contagious."
Rachel Monatanez, mother of a seventh grader at the school and parent organizer, said she'd noticed an increased engagement from parents, students and teachers in the last year.
"They also get to do sports, art, gardening. They get to do a variety of things not academics. Their day is a lot longer but it's not a boring day," she said.
"I just hope that whatever has started continues to flourish and gets stronger, [I hope that] those community ties continue to grow stronger."