Feature stories

Five of a kind

Selected city schools earn Blue Ribbons as national Schools of Excellence

Second grade teachers at PS 172 Miller Photography

Second grade teachers at PS 172 (clockwise from top,center) Heather Meyer, coach Megan Poliner, Lisa Bongiovi, Gundersen, Lauren Barile, Agata De Guida and Jina KIm  confer at their regular grade level meeting — one of the reasons for the school’s academic achievement.

Blue Ribbon flags are being displayed proudly at the five New York City public schools deemed Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education as national models of the best in leadership and teaching practices.

The Beacon School of Excellence, PS 172 in Brooklyn; PS 48 on Staten Island; and PS 130, PS 159 and PS 173 in Queens have all been named National Blue Ribbon Schools.

They are among the nation’s 304 public and private school finalists to meet the national excellence criteria — scoring in the top 10 percent of schools in their state measured by state tests in both reading (English language arts) and mathematics, or improving dramatically in both those academic areas with at least 40 percent of their student population from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Teachers at PS 130 win a bravo for their part in the school’s achievement.Bruce CotlerTeachers at PS 130 win a bravo for their part in the school’s achievement. A specially designed cake and a plaque helped mark the Bayside school’s success.

The number is up from last year, when only two city schools made the list.

In announcing the winners, the U.S. Department of Education noted, “A Blue Ribbon School flag waving overhead has become a mark of excellence, a symbol of quality recognized by everyone from parents to policy-makers in thousands of communities.”

The common thread on the road to excellence for honorees is clearly a collaborative spirit. 

Computer teacher Greta Chow Woo described PS 159 in Bayside as a “communal school” where emotional, social and academic growth are as important as test scores. 

Chapter Leader Janice Testa agreed, noting the award for the school was earned “through the hard work of our staff, students, parents and our entire school community.” 

UFT Staten Island Parent Coordinator Joan McKeever-Thomas pointed out that PS 48 has always been “a wonderful school that hums.” Chapter Leader Susan Lauria said that when you add together involved parents, incredible teachers and lots of collaboration, you get good test scores.

Hip, hip, hurray for the staff of Staten Island’s PS 48.Miller PhotographyHip, hip, hurray for the staff of Staten Island’s PS 48, a national Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

The school motto is: “We’re more than a school. We’re a family.”

PS 130 technology teacher Frances Gunther credited “an inspiring principal and a hard-working staff who give generously of their time and energy” for their success. She said her pre-K–3 school, also in Bayside, is “in constant conversation and collaboration with the focus always on students.”  

What makes PS 173 in Fresh Meadows shine is an extraordinary arts program, according to drama teacher and Chapter Leader Jean Regan. The 700-student school has an orchestra, an after-school violin program, art and drama and “longevity of staff and respect for all,” she said.

Jack Spatola, the longtime principal at PS 172 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, credited “our teachers, students and parents, all working together” for the award. Despite a low-income population and more than 30 percent of students who are English language learners, the school is noted for literacy innovation and regularly welcomes visitors from around the world to explore its success.

PS 159 staff, administration and students show what it feels like to be rated exMiller PhotographyPS 159 staff, administration and students show what it feels like to be rated excellent.

“Every day grade-level teachers meet during common prep periods in continuing conversations about students,” Spatola said.

PS 173 Queens: students and music teacher Lanie Kaish.Dave SandersWith their banner of excellence on display, PS 173  students add their musical talents to the celebration under the direction of music teacher Lanie Kaish.

Following three days of recognition in November in Washington, D.C., which included conferences, workshops and the presentation of awards, the two-person teams — usually a principal and teacher — representing each of the schools returned home to local celebrations with staff, parents and communities.

Gunther described her trip to Washington as “wonderful and magical — celebratory and invigorating.” She found inspiration in the small-group discussions with teachers and administrators from across the country who are accomplishing so much despite obstacles and budget cuts.

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