School Priorities

School budgets are finicky things. Our school budget is calculated by number of students on a grade. Schools in NYC get about $4100-$4300 per student with additional funding for students with IEPS.  These funds are expected to cover teacher salaries, supplies, and some supplemental items such as professional development.

I have two key funding priorities when figuring out the budget.  One #1 priority is to have teachers to provide support for struggling students.  When this work is done well, not only do the students who struggle gain confidence and skills, teachers also learn from each other how to support all students.

The other #1 priority is to continue to provide the rich program we currently have. We have a very luxurious program! Spanish in elementary school, two full time music teachers, an amazing librarian, and a developing technology program. Rachel Lewis wrote a grant proposal for a robotics program last Spring and she is now rolling this work out with our older students.

These two priorities may seem a little at odds with each other. I don’t believe they are.  Students who struggle in school need the intervention support. They also need a rich curriculum that allows them to develop different intelligences and ways of self expression.  Our program also gives all students the opportunity to excel in school.  Students who are visual and kinesthetic learners shine when given the opportunity and can often assist students who “excel” in traditional academic tasks.  Children who are bilingual, become expert resources in Spanish even though they may struggle in English literacy. These programs also stretch the students who do not struggle with academic tasks.  We have a lot of high achieving kids who we need to challenge in new ways.  Our rich school program helps all students become more well rounded problem solvers, thinkers and citizens.  In turn, it builds content knowledge and vocabularies  and improves engagement, learning, and test scores.

My challenge is to keep the reality of this vision going.  It may mean we need to squeeze some budget lines here and there — cutting back on some PD expenses, figuring out solutions for covering classes for intervisitations and for IEPs (sub coverage is a big expense in our school), using MyNYPL for books for units, making sure kids treat our technology with care, recruiting more student teachers to help in classrooms instead of assistant teachers.

In past years, we usually had money left to roll over to the next fiscal year. Unfortunately, declining enrollment this year, has us owing funds back.  My commitment to our school program is secure, however.  I have been working closely with the PTA to make sure that we are covering necessary expenses.  I will continue to market the school to parents and to work with the PTA to increase donations.

Given the new tax laws, this is also a reminder that your donations to your preferred charities (hopefully the Battery Park City School PTA is one of these) are tax deductible this year, but may not be next year. I am making sure to make my donations in the few days remaining.


The 276 Wellness Committee organized a film screening of the film, Angst, in late November.  The film was followed by a panel discussion with Dr. Michelle Zaccario, Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologist and PS/IS 276 Parent, Dr. Anne Marie Albano, of the Columbia University Clinic For AnxietyDr. Jerry Bubrick, Senior Director of Anxiety Disorders Center, Child Mind Institute.  I was surprised to hear that 20% to 25% of young people will experience anxiety disorders before they are out of school and that anxiety can begin to manifest as early as 4 years old.

Separation anxiety in the morning at drop off, misbehavior in the classroom, frequent trips to the nurse’s office for stomach and head aches, and extreme shyness are just some of the ways that anxiety can manifest at school. When we notice these behaviors in children, the 276 staff works collaboratively with parents to implement supports so that the children learn to manage their fears.

These supports may be simple such as arranging an alternative plan for arriving at school in the morning, offering time with a counselor or teacher to talk through anxious thoughts, and practicing mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

We also have built in supports to help students manage anxiety. Students in grades 5-8 have weekly advisory meetings, we use google classroom to help children organize and keep on top of assignments, and we have a grading policy that values persistence and participation instead of just grades.  Teachers in grades K-4 use the Second Step program to help children understand their feelings and to practice self-expression and self-advocacy. Our teachers are also trained in how to use mindfulness techniques to help students focus and de-stress.

It is important that parents and school work together to help children develop strong social emotional skills and resilience.  If you ever have any concerns about your child, please let your teacher or a school counselor know.

Here are some resources to help you understand anxiety and how to help your child manage these emotions.

The Child Mind Institute has a number of articles on helping children with anxiety. One that caught my eye was how we adults sometimes pass anxiety on to children and how we can ameliorate the impact on the children.

Usable Knowledge, an electronic newsletter I receive from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, has a series of articles on helping young people (and their grown ups) manage anxiety.

The Angst film makers also have a number of resources available on their website.


In case of emergency

(This also went out as an email blast through mailchimp.)

Dear Families,

This morning children came into school in a variety of moods. Some were excited to share their Halloween candy with our troops overseas (two children donated 100% of their trick or treat candy!) and to talk about their costumes. Others were more preoccupied with the incident on West Street and Chambers. Whether they talked about the event or not, all students knew something had happened. We know it is important to directly address concerns and news like this with students. We want them to know that we work diligently to keep them safe.

This morning all students had an opportunity to participate in community circles where questions and concerns were answered and safety protocols were reviewed again.  Our staff was proud of our students for their thoughtful comments, concern, and empathy.  Students were encouraged to speak to a school counselor or teacher if needed.  While the staff was impressed with the students, they also expressed that many of the students were struck by the closeness of the event. We are watching the kids closely today and urge you to check in with your children as well.

Here are some resources to guide you in navigating these conversations with your children.

National Child Traumatic Stress Center

How to Talk to Kids About Violence: A Response from Parenting Press

Child Mind Institute trauma resources 

Due to recent events you may be feeling overwhelmed with concerns, worry and questions.  I would like to take this opportunity to re-visit our school emergency protocol, how to connect with school after hours, and resources available including tips for supporting your child.

I also want to review safety and emergency protocols with you.
Emergency protocols 
As Susan shared in an earlier email and we have 3 main safety protocols that we practice. The familiar fire drill (now called an evacuation drill), lock down drills (the scariest of the 3; we hide in classrooms with doors locked), and shelter in place (where the danger is outside the school building, we lock the doors, and keep things as normal as possible for the children.) Yesterday, we used the shelter in place protocol.  Whenever we are instructed to use a safety protocol by the FDNY or NYPD, we are not allowed to lift it until we are given the go ahead. While this can be frustrating, it is done with the intention of keeping our community safe.

Communication from School to Home
If events happen during the school day, we will send out blasts through twitter (@terriruyter), a blog post, email blasts (we had some technical issues yesterday and not all emails arrived at the destination) and through MailChimp. I am also working on finding an easy to use emergency group text service.

Communication from Home to School
If you have concerns, you can also call the school (remember that many parents might be calling and the phones may be busy) or Manhattan Youth if it is during after school hours.

School office: 212-266-5800
Brad Lewis – K through 5th 646-592-1233
Cynthia DeLeon – 6th through 8th 917-565-7249

Thank you for your support and courage during this time. Our community is a very strong and resilient one. One I am very proud of.

Perseverance and Grace

PJPeter John Rendall is a role model in my eyes.  PJ has been in our school since kindergarten.  In that time, he has accomplished a lot of the goals of each grade along with his classmates.  He is learning to read and write with increasing fluency and depth of comprehension. He is learning mathematical thinking. He is studying history and geography and science.

PJ has also had other things to learn that most of our students able to do with little thought.  While in elementary school, PJ transitioned from using a walker to moving about with crutches and leg braces.  This year, in fifth grade, he participated in his first Run for Knowledge.  He completed the run slowly and steadily.  His stamina and drive to accomplish this goal is admirable.  This perseverance serves him well as it is as applicable to athletic accomplishments as it is to academic accomplishments.  When the going gets tough for me, I remember PJ and students like him who face additional challenges.

By the time, PJ reached the finish line, we were long out of medals.  One of our first graders, Gregoire Jaffres-Bell, was still at the finish line with his mom.  He watched PJ cross the finish line to the cheers of those left in the park.  He noticed that PJ did not get a medal.  In a moment of grace and compassion, Gregoire gave his medal to PJ.  I am as proud of Gregoire for identifying the hard work of a fellow Charger as I am of PJ for completing the mile run.

Some of our middle school students saw this interaction and quickly joined in the generosity  by giving both Gregoire and PJ their medals.  They made two young boys very happy.

Often the work of schools is thought to be limited to teaching academics.  Equally important is the culture of care and communal responsibility that is nurtured in school.   I am proud to publicly celebrate Peter John and Gregoire who demonstrated these values at the Run for Knowledge and to the middle school students (sorry, I don’t remember who they were) for joining in.

(Photo courtesy of The Broadsheet and photographer, Robert Simko.)

Self Aware/World Aware

Welcome back to school!

The middle school team, with the support of our amazing middle school assistant principal, Nico Victorino, has launched the school year in a very thoughtful way.  Rather than diving right into formal academics and homework, middle schoolers spent the first two days of school building community and awareness.

Students spent significant time in their advisories. Typically, each advisory is made of small groups of grade specific students.  This allows advisors to focus the advisory curriculum on age specific needs — from building independence in 6th grade to planning for high school in 8th grade. This year, in addition to those aspects of our advisory program, groups have cross grade partnerships.  These partnerships will meet on occasion to engage in community building activities.

This past week, advisory partnerships met together to discuss important topics in the news under the theme of self awareness and global awareness.   Students were given options for news items to learn about and discuss.  Choices included removal of confederate statues, the events in Charlottesville in mid-August, DACA repeal, and the impact of extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Teachers helped students understand relevant vocabulary and concepts as well as necessary scientific and historical background information.  Students then engaged in discussions with each other about the pros and cons of diverse perspectives. As usual, I was impressed with the students’ thoughtfulness, questions, and ability to have complicated and respectful conversations. The work this past week is setting the stage for the complex thinking we expect of our students during the school year. Additionally, it is building understanding of the role of government and the habits of mind and knowledge needed for civic engagement.

Of course, teachers also shared behavioral expectations and reviewed school policies with the students. (Our new student handbook is coming home. Please review it with your child). And teachers and students took time to celebrate community through assemblies.

Students also met new staff members and learned of new roles for some of our prior staff.

Dawn Schafer will be leading the middle school math department again this year.  Dawn will be joined by Yoobin Noh (6th grade), Peggy Chen (7th grade), and Saeed Golpoor (Algebra 1).  Erika Richardson and Jessica Kuhl will be teaching 6-8th grade science. Jamie Christian will continue to support 6th grade in math and science.  Audra Benjamin is returning to our school from a several year stay in Colorado. She will be supporting 7th grade in math and science.  Lisa Bartuccelli is joining our staff from a high school in the Bronx. She brings many years of experience supporting students in Algebra 1 and science.

We will continue to have our fabulous social studies team of Natalie (Delmonte) Skeels, Carmen Robles and Mary Valentine.

Katie McGinn is supporting middle school students in literacy.  She will be working with small groups of students in grades 6-8.  Tamar Goelman continues to teach 8th grade ELA and Maren Aydogan is teaching 7th grade ELA.  Jessica Beck is joining our staff as the 6th grade ELA teacher. Catherine Cohl will be the learning specialist in ELA in grades 6 and 8 and Morgan Fusetti is returning as the learning specialist for ELA in grades 6 and 7.

And we are grateful to be able to learn band and chorus with Stephanie Mazarakis and Krista Bruschini, art with Amanda Capalbo, PE with Jon Carey, health with Melissa Kefales, tech with Rachel Lewis, and Spanish with Pooja Shekar.

On September 19 from 6 to 7:30 you will have the opportunity to hear from your children’s teachers at Back to School Night.  We look forward to seeing you there.


State Test Scores 2016-2017

As many of you know, NYS test scores have been released.  We are in the process of looking at the data for our school. I will be sharing results with the school community in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, parents of students who took the tests can access their children’s scores through their NYC Schools Account. This is an informational account for parents that has information on attendance and test scores and is the account that will be used for this information for your children as long as they are in New York City public schools.

Some parents have set up these accounts already. (Letters have gone home several times with the instructions.) Click here for information on NYC Schools Account registration.

If you have not yet set up an account, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.  Unfortunately, it is a bit complicated. In order to set up an account, you need two pieces of information.

  1. Your child’s OSIS number. This is the 9-digit identification number assigned to your child in the DOE computer system.  It is on your child’s report card. You should keep this number stored somewhere as you may need it whenever navigating DOE systems.
  2. A secure code for your child. The only way we currently have of getting this number to you is through a hard copy letter. Susan will generate a new set of these letters early next week. These letters are only available in pdf as a group file.  We cannot email individual letters to you. You can come in to pick up your letter next week.

I wish that this process were more user friendly. Right now, this is the only method we have.

Nurse Elissa

I want to give a shout out to Elissa, school nurse extraordinaire. This spring, I nominated Elissa for a School Nurse recognition award. She has been  selected to be honored by the Office of School Health for her contributions to our school community.  Elissa and I will be going to the awards ceremony on Thursday afternoon.

In nominating Elissa for a recognition award, I highlighted her attention to individual students and her ability to advocate for them in thoughtful and personalized ways. Whether she is setting up families with medical specialists to support children, finding role models for students in need,  listening to them as they navigate the transition from childhood to adulthood, or just creating a safe space for children, Elissa is a role model for me in how she cares for others.

Elissa recognizes that an important part of wellness for young people includes mental health. Elissa recently completed a Thrive training on assisting young people in mental health crisis. As a nurse in a middle school, she develops strong, trusting relationships with our students. Students then feel comfortable coming to her for a talk or support when they are stressed.  Add to this intense work, Elissa also provides band-aids, ice packs and asthma pumps. She checks for fevers with the “mom thermometer” of a wrist to the forehead and with the Star Trek version where she uses a high tech tool to measure temperature with no skin contact. She is on top of all children with allergies, trains all teachers to use epipens, and monitors the health of children with chronic illness from diabetes to lupus. She is able to help children with lagging communication and sensory processing challenges successfully navigate regular visits to the nurse’s office. She knows most of the over 900 children in the school by name.  I didn’t include in my recommendation for this award that Elissa has a ready ear for parents who are struggling and that she coaches our staff on our own healthcare because I was worried that it would get her “in trouble” for going above and beyond. Her office remains a respite for graduates who return to check in with her and for teachers and Manhattan Youth staff who need a little TLC.

One of our younger students had surgery on his Achilles tendons this winter. When his surgeon spoke to him about the next steps in his recovery, he confidently told the doctor that he would check with Elissa for her opinion. The doctor, confused, asked the mom who this “Elissa” is. The mom told him that she is our amazing school nurse.

So, hats off to Elissa for being an outstanding medical professional and human being. Largely remaining in her windowless office with her very cool thermometer, she is the Dr. Bones to my Captain Kirk.


STEM at 276

It was Earth Day on Saturday. A bit of history.  Earth Day was “officially” started in 1970 as a way of bringing in disparate environmental groups that were active at the time.  The idea was to use this day (the same day as Arbor Day — a day dedicated to planting trees) for teach-ins and social action to defend the environment.  It seems appropriate, then, that the March for Science was scheduled for Earth Day this year.  Once again, we need teach-ins and organization for social action for science and the environment.  I marched (briefly) with the march that started at 72nd and CPW on Saturday.  Reading the different signs, looking around me at Central Park and the real estate of the NYC skyline, and thinking about a book I recently read about Henrietta Lacks (the HBO movie aired this weekend) and how her cancer cells have led to cures for cancer and other diseases, focused my thoughts on the importance of science in our daily lives. (I also realized I had not used the science behind weather forecasting and my iPhone to tell me to bring an umbrella.)  From medical cures to horticulture to skyscrapers and weather forecasting, science and technology are deeply integrated into our daily lives.

Last Friday morning, Rachel Lewis and I shared our school’s vision for STEM. (Here is the link to our slide show:  STEM at PS-IS 276 .) At 276 we want to make sure that our children are using technology to learn, think and act in informed and critical ways.  It is not enough that we teach the students to code because the code language we teach this year may be out-dated by next fall.  Instead, we need to use a variety of tools to help children learn to analyze, to break information and tasks down to their component parts, and then to design new solutions drawing upon multiple skills.  We want our students to be flexible, responsive thinkers and creators. The ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) standards refer to these outcomes as computational thinking, innovative designers, creative communicators and knowledge constructors.  These are the higher order skills we want to help our students develop.

But, these skills don’t all have to happen at a keyboard.  When our first graders build boats and birdhouses with Construction Kids and our third graders build windmills with milk cartons and styrofoam balls, they are analyzing component parts and designing innovative solutions.  The habits of mind these experiences nurture prepare our students for more complex (and hopefully more digital) creative endeavors down the road.  Best of all, these hands-on, minds-on higher order tasks are amazing entry points for universal access to our curriculum.

As we continue to refine our curriculum, our goal is to include more opportunities for students to build these types of skills. We will be integrating more technology use into our middle school math program next year.  Rachel Lewis, as the technology teacher, will be teaching our students more technology skills.  Classroom and specialist teachers who are continually building their own proficiencies in using coding and using various apps for creative tasks will join Rachel in building the creative skills we want all our students to have.



Algebra for All

Mathematics is one subject area that is considered a high priority by many in our school community, in New York City, and in educational conversations around the country.  Math instruction today is very different from what most of us adults experienced as students. There is a greater emphasis on mathematical reasoning and conceptual understanding. This means that even our youngest students are learning to manipulate numbers in what may be considered “non traditional” ways.  The habits of mind about mathematics and the numeracy skills being developed in our early grades are laying the foundation for more advance math in upper grades.

Dawn Schafer, our math coach, our math teachers, members of the School Leadership Team, and I have been working to refine our mathematics program in the upper grades to help our students have a richer, more challenging mathematics experience at 276. As a result of this study we have determined that all of our 8th graders will be taking Algebra 1 as a Regents class in 8th grade starting in the 2017-2018 school year.

Offering Algebra 1 to all of our 8th graders will provide our students with an appropriately challenging mathematics curriculum that allows our graduates to earn high school credit in middle school and is aligned with the Department of Education’s Algebra for All initiative.   This will enable our students to take more advanced math courses in high school and better prepare them for college and careers.  

In grades K-4, our classroom teachers are providing students a balance of context based problems, math games that reinforce skills and numeracy, and instruction that emphasizes reasoning and communicating. In recording their mathematical thinking,as early as second grade students begin to learn to write the answer as a letter that precedes the equation and to use parentheses to indicate which parts of an equation are solved first.  For example, in solving 24 + 16, students might decompose the numbers to be n = (20 + 4) + (10 + 6).  They learn  the distributive property and so might rewrite the problem to be n = 20 + 10 + (6+4).  These foundational skills and habits of algebraic reasoning are woven into the curriculum from very early grades. 

Starting in fifth grade, our math program is departmentalized. Students go to math class and are taught math by math specialists.  The curriculum continues to provide students with a balance of context based problems and instruction that emphasizes reasoning and communicating.  Again, algebraic reasoning is addressed throughout the curriculum. 

In all our grades, mathematics instruction is differentiated. In lower grades, teachers partner students deliberately and provide pairs with math games that reinforce the skills that students need. In upper grades, differentiation is accomplished through tiered problems.  This means that problems presented to the class have varied levels of sophistication.  Students start at appropriate levels for their learning and receive support through small group instruction, scaffolds and extensions.

All of this work is supported by Dawn and Ariel and through on site and off site professional learning workshops that are led by internationally recognized mathematics educators with Math in the City (CUNY), Metamorphosis, and Generation Ready.  Recently, we had a visitor from Generation Ready who analyzed our math instruction K-8.  He noted strengths of our program include: 

  • Teachers collect a variety of forms of data and use it to inform planning and instruction
  • Willingness of teachers to embrace math and improving their practice
  • Willingness of teachers to embrace that they are math learners alongside their students
  • Use of mathematical practices (CCLS)
    • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
    • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
    • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
    • Model with mathematics
    • Use appropriate tools strategically.
    • Attend to precision.
    • Look for and make use of structure.
    • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

All of this means that our students and teachers are in a good place to transition to Algebra 1 for all students in grade 8.  Currently, our Middle School math curriculum provides students with rich tasks which allow for discussion and reasoning and we are introducing some algebra concepts one year early. For example, Grade 6 is learning about unit rate and how it relates to graphs and equations.  Grade 7 is learning about how linear and proportional relationships are similar and different, and how the slope intercept form relates to tables and graphs.

Starting next year, we will be compacting 7th and 8th grade math and Algebra 1 into 2 years. Math in these grades will be taught through two different courses:  

  1. Math Exploration
  2. 7th and 8th grade math

Our math team is in the process of rewriting the units of study that make up middle school math for next year.  Additionally, Rachel Lewis is preparing  a technology class that uses coding to support Algebra 1 for students in 8th grade.

While I am confident that we have  a strong plan in place, we also want to assure that our students are ready for this shift.  Therefore, 7th grade units at the end of the year will include tasks and skills related to concepts needed for Algebra 1. 






Kindness and Justice

We have a tradition in February to have a focus on kindness and justice. This is linked to a NYC Department of Education initiative called Respect for All Week that takes place this year from the week of February 13.  We are entering February this year with a sense of urgency around this focus on kindness and justice.  Nationwide, there appears to be an increase in hate speech and hate crimes in schools and in neighborhoods.  Helping children to understand the impact of their words is complex.  In addition to children mimicking what they hear or see in the media, they often lack social and/or historical understanding of why certain phrases are offensive.  As a school, we are committed to helping children understand how language and images can be hurtful, to teaching them to be critical consumers of media, and to build their social and historical knowledge.  All of this is part of teaching empathy, a character trait that seems to be on the decline in America.
As most community members know by now, on Monday afternoon, we were alerted that there was graffiti in the 8th floor boys’ bathroom.  A swastika had been drawn in pencil along with the phrase “sig heil trump”  [sic].  We immediately erased the swastika and writing and then I met with Nico, Mary, Alexis, and Mara to plan our response. We knew it needed to be carefully designed to clearly communicate that this is not acceptable along with an explanation of why. We also wanted to provide the students with a positive message of how we expect our community to work to create a safer world for all.  We do not know how many students saw the graffiti.  We are aware that many students were unaware that it had happened.  However, as a school we do not tolerate acts such as this. We continue to work hard to insure that all students know that they are welcome and safe in our school.
As part of our response, middle school teachers organized a special assembly.  All middle school teachers participated as we wanted to make sure that students understood that we speak with a united voice on this matter.  We began with a bit of historical background on the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and the meaning of the swastika symbol.  We then shared with students the words of Martin Neimoller, a Protestant pastor in Germany who became a vocal critic of the Nazi party.  We shared his “First they came…” poem with the students. Different teachers read each stanza.  Students then were asked to turn and talk about how this poem has meaning for us today.
After talking about Neimoller’s role as an upstander, several 8th graders volunteered to share their thoughts. They had been given the stem “As a __(fill in part of their identity)_____ , I felt __(fill in emotion about the incident).”  Some examples of how they represented themselves are
As an American,
As a Muslim girl
As a Jewish girl
As a Republican
As a Jewish person
As a friend
As a student
As a community member
As a New Yorker
As a person of German heritage
Some examples of how they felt include:
Offended that our leader (no matter what political party) was compared to Hitler
The need to do something
This is not a joke
Middle school students then broke into smaller group discussions with teachers.  We will be following up this initial conversation in upcoming advisories and continue to build more opportunities to talk about racism and offensive behaviors in all our classrooms in developmentally appropriate ways.  Some things that have been happening recently in classrooms around educating for empathy include:
  • This past week, we were fortunate to have the NYC Kids Project perform for our kindergarten and third grade classes on empathy.   In addition, eighth graders in the community service elective will be working with the NYC Kids Project to develop “empathy projects” with which they will teach their younger buddies how to be more empathic.
  • In first grade, students have been learning about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King.  They are learning from these American heroes how to stand up for what is right.
  • Our middle school students all visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage in December. There they heard from two holocaust survivors — one who had survived concentration camps during World War II and the other who had survived the Rwandan Genocide.
  • Our fifth graders read novels and memoirs about the struggle to fit in due to different aspects of their beings.  Discussions focus on character actions — those who are upstanders and bystanders — with consideration of how our own actions impact the lives of others.

I feel fortunate that I work in a school in which teachers and families are committed to raising children who are concerned about justice.  There are no standardized tests that measure our children’s empathy, but we know it is critical to teach this quality anyway.  Here’s to a more kind and just world.  Together, we can work to achieve this goal.