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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The John L. Bernstein School (P.S. 137) has been rescued from closure, according to the city Department of Education, which has decided to give the Lower East Side elementary school a chance to overcome its academic struggles.
Last year, P.S. 137 received the lowest progress report score in District 1 for the second year in a row, and consequently was the only Manhattan elementary school — and one of nine public schools in the borough — on the chopping block this year. However, D.O.E. has since announced that the school isn’t a candidate for next year’s phase-out process, since it surpassed average statistics of failing schools citywide, according to spokesperson Frank Thomas.
Instead, D.O.E. is implementing a targeted action plan, including leadership coaching, new programming and professional development, to help the school get back on its feet.
“P.S. 137 is struggling, but after the conversations we had with the school over the last two months, we believe it has the capacity to improve,” said Thomas. “We look forward to working with the school to develop a plan that will help improve academic outcomes of students.”
In the 2010-’11 school year, P.S. 137 students scored a 45 percent in math proficiency, compared to the 31 percent average score of citywide elementary schools proposed for phase-outs; and a 37 percent in English Language Arts, compared to a 25 percent average score of the other struggling schools.
Though it hasn’t reached rock bottom, in order to avoid a possible closure in future years, the school is expected to raise its scores, having, last year, received an “F” in its overall progress report; a “D” in student performance; and a “C” in school environment.
Neither the school’s principal, Melissa Rodriguez, nor other school staff returned multiple calls for comment.
“The substitute teachers and budget cuts hurt us really bad,” said Rose Torres, the school’s Parent Association vice president. “I hope the progress report goes up, and hopefully the students will do well in their reading and their math.”
With D.O.E. assistance, the school is making efforts to raise student performance — by extending extra help hours before and after school, for example, ordering new academic books for the students, and offering additional services to the teachers, according to P.A. Treasurer Elizabeth Torres.
Elizabeth Torres’s own two children — one in fourth grade, and the other in second grade — have made academic progress since last year, both earning “student of the month” in September for their grades, according to their mother.
While Elizabeth Torres said she was “elated” about the school remaining open this year, she expressed concern about the school’s future. She and a group of parents plan to join the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice on a Jan. 10 trip to Albany to protest the forthcoming state budget cuts.
The P.S. 137 Parents Assocation is soliciting greater parental input this year, having parents come to the school more frequently to monitor the students’ progress.
“We’re going to continue to fight to have our school open, and have parents understand they have to be involved in their childrens’ education for them to succeed,” said Elizabeth Torres.
Asked about the risk of the school being phased out in future years if there’s continued low performance, Thomas replied, “I just can’t say how likely it is. That’s an entire year away.”
P.A. President Maria Diaz said she felt relieved to be able to drop her search of alternative schooling for her three grandchildren that attend the school.
“I’m feeling great about it — I was hoping they weren’t going to close the school down,” she said.
Lower Manhattan’s local elected officials also praised D.O.E.’s decision about P.S. 137. Councilmember Margaret Chin, who fiercely lobbied against the school’s closure earlier this fall, said, “I am happy that the D.O.E. has demonstrated their commitment to this small neighborhood school. Principal Rodriguez knows where her school’s weaknesses lie, and she has demonstrated a willingness to address those issues in a comprehensive manner.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “As I expressed to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott last month, it is essential for the D.O.E., faculty, parents and the community to come together to make sure this school is put onto a path for success.”
Silver continued, “Together, we will work hard to ensure that P.S. 137 — which just two years ago was awarded an ‘A’ grade by the D.O.E. — reaches the level of success we know it is capable of achieving.”