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SD 29 middle school scores raise concerns

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For concerned parents who will soon send their young children off to the middle grades, several district principals outlined changes made to improve their schools at a meeting Saturday at PS 95 in Jamaica."It's important that we create a school environment that engages students," Shango Blake, the head of Queens Village's IS 109, said during the meeting, which was organized by the district's Community Education Council as the third parent caucus of the year.Blake, in his second full year, is credited with turning around his school by instituting a dress code, adding extracurriculars and giving students to chance to put together a hip-hop CD and recently, a DVD. He cited the projects as examples of what other principals could accomplish.But even with Blake's success, IS 109 has been categorized as a school requiring academic progress for the third year in a row, according to state report cards recently issued for 2004. Schools receive the label if not enough pupils take state and city tests or if not enough pass them, although if only one segment of the student population fails the category is applied to all.The story is similar in the other four middle schools in the district. IS 231 in Laurelton is also in its third year of requiring progress, while IS 59 in Springfield Gardens is in its second. And IS 192 in St. Albans is planning to restructure, a more serious category, while IS 238 in Hollis is the midst of the process.So while the 26 schools in the district with elementary students are all in good standing, the district has still been told by the state it needs to improve.At IS 59, "we have been in turmoil," seventh-grade Assistant Principal Serge Davis said at the meeting. Community leaders, however, have credited first-year Principal Carleton Gordon with turning IS 59 around. And beginning next school year, administrators will create new, smaller academies in the sixth grade, then expand the program to include the whole school by 2008. The initiative is expected to provide smaller classes and more individualized attention.IS 192 has already been divided into six academies: Space and Ocean Exploration; Multi-Media Communications; Sports Medicine; Newcomers; Arts and Humanities; and Science, Math, Arts, Research and Technology, or SMART. Its building will also host the new Pathways College Preparatory School, a separate endeavor with grades six to 12, beginning next year.Unlike at the middle schools, the new program will focus on getting its students into college, not just high school. And unlike other new schools, it will not have a theme but will instead teach the basics."We're not fancy," Interim Acting Principal Michele Shannon said. While students need to apply, they must mainly show they have good attendance records."It's really based on interest," Shannon said.Blake said middle-school parents and faculties faced a challenge, as the grades represent a time of change and testing limits for students."The child is going through a transitory process," he said. He advised that parents stay involved in the higher grades, and added there is a sense of hope in the district."The schools are moving," he said, "especially the middle schools."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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