The Edge Award for Rising Star Public School in Williamsburg
Over the past decade, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has become an epicenter of art, culture and urban renewal. And much like the neighborhood, many local schools have undergone a transformation as well.
When Kathleen Elvin arrived as principal at Williamsburg Prep in 2004, she remembers receiving complaints from the neighborhood about noise and student behavior.
“We had not necessarily a positive image,” she said. “Now they tell me things are a lot better.”
Part of the school’s success can be attributed to the contributions of families, teachers and students, many of whom come from Brooklyn, with a few coming from Queens
“We have the greatest staff and the greatest kids anywhere,” said parent coordinator Christopher Brimer.
Of the 2008 graduating class, “every single graduating senior was accepted to college,” she said, and “many of them are the first generation in their family to go to college.”
Elvin has played a key role in the school’s transformation, according to Brimer.
“She’s amazing,” Brimer said, adding that Elvin “must put in 60 hours a week.”
Elvin expects a lot from her students as well. She said she is governed by the philosophy that “all kids can do better than they are currently doing.”
“It is our responsibility to tap into every child’s potential,” she said.
Her expectation: that nearly 99 percent of her students will attend college.
Given the budget, the school makes every effort to keep classes as small as possible, usually between 25 and 26 students (the Department of Education allows up to 34 students per class).
Williamsburg Prep uses mandatory Department of Education evaluations, as well as more qualitative evaluations that the school has created for itself. Elvin feels that if students are falling behind, it is vital to identify those problems in their infancy.
“You want to find out in September if kids are going to fail in May,” she said.
The school also publishes students’ grades and attendance records on a secure website in order to better involve parents. It may seem surprising, Brimer said, but “the kids do love it. They use it, they check their own grades.”
Teachers are vital to the school’s success, and Williamsburg Prep looks for ways to cultivate talent and have educators incorporate their own interests into the curriculum.
Biology teacher Dr. Yvonne Ughrin has played to the popularity of detective shows by offering a forensics class, where students study fingerprinting, mug shots and ballistics.
Teachers have also helped launch clubs for rock climbing, guitar, makeup and fashion.
Williamsburg Prep’s emphasis on college is reinforced by a partnership with Long Island University. Students can attend free, college-level courses for both high school and college credit. Meanwhile, the university’s education majors act as mentors for their younger peers. Williamsburg Prep is a “lab school” for the university, with college students gaining valuable classroom experience by teaching high school students.
“Our expectation,” Elvin said, “is that this school offers all of the advantages that a private school offers.”
Williamsburg Preparatory School
257 North 6th Street
Brooklyn, N.Y. 11211
Kathleen Elvin, Principal
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