Brooklyn’s Rising Star Public Middle School
For the past 10 or 15 years, Park Slope’s M.S. 51, William Alexander, has been known for its outstanding performing arts program. Students in the 6th-through-8th grade school study visual art, photography, instrumental music, chorus, drama, dance or show choir for four periods every week.
But since Lenore DiLeo-Berner became principal in early 2007, the school, which enrolls just fewer than 1,000 students, has developed a reputation for something else: math and science.
“The environment in the school is much better,” said parent coordinator Audrey Komaroff, whose daughter graduated from M.S. 51 in 2003. “We’re a talent school, a performing school, so a lot of times the energy was put toward the talent. Now it’s across the board with the talent and the academic.”
“When I came in, I really felt that I needed to take a better look at the academic portion, because the kids that came here were gifted and talented and needed to be better challenged,” DiLeo-Berner said. Her background is as a high school chemistry teacher who also conducted staff development sessions for middle school science teachers before becoming principal at M.S. 88, and then M.S. 51.
DiLeo-Berner added a diagnostic test toward the end of 6th grade, which sorts out highly accelerated students. Those students take a math course that covers 7th and 8th grade math in one year, so that by 8th grade they’re taking the 9th grade Regents algebra class.
Sixth and 7th graders take a combination of physical and life sciences. At the end of 7th grade, students take a diagnostic test. Those who show a real aptitude take the 9th grade living environment curriculum, so they can pass the 9th grade Regents exam. Entering high school ready to take 10th grade science means those students can take AP classes or other science electives by their senior year.
“Last year was the first time launching this,” DiLeo-Berner said, “so we were pretty nervous.”
But she reported that the advanced curriculum has been a success. This year, approximately one-third of 7th graders are taking accelerated math and about one-third of the 8th graders are taking Regents math and science. Last year, all of the students who took Regents exams in math and science passed.
This past year, DiLeo-Berner has focused on improving the school’s offerings for special education students. She hired a new special education teacher who conducts one-on-one tutoring with students in whatever subject they need help. She also made sure that her special education teachers went to the same professional development classes that the math and English teachers took at Teachers College.
When she first came in, DiLeo-Berner said, “It seemed like the special education classrooms were not as bountiful as the general education libraries.” She had a specialist come in from Teacher’s College to test special education students’ reading levels and bring in books to match. With the help of the Parent Teacher Association, special education students now have “shelves and shelves of books that are totally accessible to them,” DiLeo-Berner said.
Part of what has made M.S. 51 successful, according to the principal, is the PTA. In the past, the group has raised money to help buy technology for the school, and even helped pay for a tech specialist who roves the building fixing the school’s more than 300 computers. This year, the PTA will help organize enrollment and payment for M.S. 51’s after school program, which will have to charge parents for the first time due to budget cuts last spring.
Despite DiLeo-Berner focus on bolstering other aspects of the school’s curriculum, M.S. 51’s arts program remains strong. There is a black box theater where students put on plays. The show choir has traveled to California to perform. Drama students performed in Scotland last year, and the dance troop went to the University of Kingston in Jamaica to take dance classes for the past two summers.
“We are a gifted and talented school,” DiLeo-Berner said, “which we define as a program that focuses on academic achievement first with an emphasis in the arts.”
M.S. 51, William Alexander
350 Fifth Ave.
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215
Lenore DiLeo-Berner, Principal
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