PS 121 wins academic improvement award

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"We was surprised - we was like shocked," the 10-year-old recalled. "It's good to be recognized because you are making your friends and families proud."

The Magnet School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Ozone Park is one of 24 elementary schools in New York to win the Business Council of New York State Inc.'s Pathfinder Award, presented to schools with sharp improvements in their annual achievement tests.

The school accepted the award during a ceremony in its auditorium on March 24, during which students sang, danced and were praised by city Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein.

"This is a time to celebrate," Klein said, noting that PS 121 is one of two schools in the region to win the award.

He praised the school's teachers, administrators, students and their parents for an 80 percent boost in fourth-grade scores in the statewide English Language Arts tests.

"The work you're doing now is going to be critical to the kind of life you're going to live," Klein said, adding that if students stayed the course and continued to work hard, they "could truly reach for the stars in life."

School principal Henry Somers credited his staff with the turnaround in scores.

"I'm proud to say that I'm standing here being able to accept it (this award) on behalf of all my students and teachers," he said. "It feels great. ... I have a staff that's dedicated."

During his acceptance speech, Somers said that too often schools are portrayed negatively in the media and rarely recognized for their good work. That is just one reason he said winning the Pathfinder Award is so special.

The Business Council of New York State established the Pathfinder Award in 2001 to honor schools on the rise, said David Shaffer, the council's corporate secretary. Before presenting Somers with a trophy and $1,000 check, he said students should feel proud to receive an award that more than 2,000 other elementary schools in the state are eligible for.

"We call it the Pathfinder Award because you are finding the path to success for all those other schools."

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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