Today’s news:

DOE continues to think small - Knowledge & Power Prep Middle School to debut in Sept.

Clinton Hill is joining the city Department of Education’s (DOE) small schools movement. In September, a small school, Knowledge and Power Preparatory VII Middle School, will open in I.S. 117’s building at 300 Willoughby Avenue. It will maintain a focus on community service and leadership development. By bringing the small schools initiative to middle schools, city officials hope to prevent students from falling off course before they reach high school. This is in response to city and state data showing that student achievement steadily declines from sixth to eighth grade. When announcing the new school, Chancellor Joel Klein noted, “educating middle school students effectively remains a challenge.” But the department asserts that small schools have higher attendance rates than traditional schools and their students excel on standardized exams. “I know the idea is that they provide smaller classes,” said Juan Ramos, a member of District 13’s Community Education Council (CEC), which represents schools in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights. “You want to avoid overcrowding and you want to give kids more individual attention.” The addition of Knowledge and Power Preparatory will bring the number of schools in I.S. 117’s building to three. The building is already home to a small school, Brooklyn Preparatory High School, which also operates as an empowerment school and is granted greater autonomy when making school-based decisions about curriculum offerings and staffing issues. Local parents had mixed reactions to the news that I.S. 117 will welcome another small school. “I’m torn,” said Carmen Colon, president of the Association of New York City Education Councils and the former president of District 13’s CEC. “I understand the perception that a more close-knit community would provide a sense of being more personal and providing more individual attention.” However, she questioned how three schools, each with its own principal, can function in one building. Battles rage about “who’s in charge of the building? Who’s in charge of what? You pit one school against the other,” she said. Colon offered another way to increase student achievement at the schools operating at I.S. 117, which has struggled with poor test scores and safety concerns. She said, “The problem is that it’s in the middle of a low-income area where the scores were horrible and parental involvement was not as great as we would have liked it to be. But creating small schools within the school is not going to change anything because one of the biggest problems is that we are not providing any of the services that would have made some headway for those children.” She’s referring to a school-based health center, which would provide medical and psychological care to youths. “If a child is busy worrying about how their family is doing,” Colon said, “they’re not going to want to sit down and learn how to read and write.” The creation of small schools posed another concern for parents – why weren’t they given a chance to offer input about which schools should be placed at I.S. 117. “It’s how parents are included in the process that means a lot,” Ramos said. “I think it all comes down to the community involvement in it. Are parents really being included in the process of why these schools are coming into the neighborhood? Are their opinions taken into [consideration]?” In response to such concerns, Klein has said he will visit CEC meetings throughout the city to answer parents’ questions and discuss new school system reforms.

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