You need to climb four flights of stairs to get to M.S. 577 Conselyea Preparatory School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which sits on the top two floors above an elementary school.
The uphill climb to the school hasn’t prevented it from receiving upwards of 600 applications for the school’s 150 sixth-grade seats, year in and year out. Test scores, attendance, and parent survey ratings have been strong, but there’s more to its appeal.
What makes M.S. 577 so special is a combination of a tight-knit workforce and an embrace of experimentation and responsiveness to evidence of what works and what doesn’t for its students. Maria Masullo became principal in 2004, when M.S. 577 split off as a middle school from P.S. 132, and then moved to its current location in 2010. Somewhat remarkably, most of the school’s 45 teachers have been with her that entire time, and they invariably refer to each other as family members.
The consistency in the school’s staffing is actually an outgrowth of a culture focused on innovation and adaptation. Administrators and teachers say they are excited to come to work because of their team-oriented approaches to continuously improve the learning experience for their students.
Examples of those innovations include:
- M.S. 577 Brooklyn was one of the first New York City schools to have students lead parent-teacher conferences. It has contributed to increased parent attendance at the conferences while raising the educational benefits of those meetings for students. Masullo led workshops so that many more schools throughout the City could follow her school’s example.
- Every June, teachers take stock of their curriculum to evaluate what should be kept for the next year and what needs to be upgraded or revised. Masullo says, “We are always making adjustments in response to gaps or shortcomings that we think we need to correct. For example, in English Language Arts this year, we are weaving back in more creative writing opportunities that we felt we neglected last year and the children said they missed.”
- M.S. 577 has many collaborations with other schools, including: sending students to read to the younger children in P.S. 17 downstairs; an “ambassador partnership” with high school students across the street who come and tutor M.S. 577 students; and regular Monday meetings with teachers and administrators from other District 14 middle schools focused on analyzing data and developing instructional strategies.
“This age group is tough—they know how adults operate because they want to be adults. But when you really show them, take them by the hand and walk them through the steps, then they will be right there with you and they’ll want more and more.” – Principal Maria Masullo, M.S. 577
Creating a deeply supportive and interconnected culture, in Masullo’s view, is essential to connecting with students so that they can learn to their fullest capacity. “The philosophy behind it is if you really, really care about these kids, they can and will learn in the supportive environment that you give them,” she says. “But if you just make believe you care, then they’ll see right through you. This age group is tough—they know how adults operate because they want to be adults. But when you really show them, take them by the hand and walk them through the steps, then they will be right there with you and they’ll want more and more.”
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