Morningside Heights-area schools got a mixed report in the Department of Education's annual rankings of city schools. Five schools in the area received C letter grades in the DOE's yearly letter-grade evaluations of every borough's public schools. That doesn't bode well for four of the local schools—P.S. 180, P.S. 125, P.S. 36 and P.S. 145—which received C grades last year. Receiving a C grade or worse for three years in a row flags the school as a potential candidate for closure. Other schools in the area received A grades consistent with their recent performances—including KIPP Infinity, on 133rd Street, and Mott Hall II, on 109th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. After jumping last year from a B to an A, P.S. 165, which shares a building with Mott Hall II, went back down to a B. The University-affiliated Columbia Secondary School, on 123rd Street between Morningside Drive and Amsterdam Avenue, received a C, a surprising drop after its ascension to the 78th percentile last year. Although the school received an A in student performance—a ranking based on English and math state standardized test results—and ranked fourth among city schools in its achievement peer group, it suffered with a D in student progress. Miriam Nightengale, who became principal of the school last year, attributed the drop to the methodology of the rankings rather than actual changes in the school's quality. Nightengale said the DOE calculates the student progress ranking by determining how student scores have changed within the past year relative to peer schools with similar achievement levels. As a result, the ranking is sensitive to even slight drops in scores at a high-performing school. "Statistically, the percentage of students at the higher end is a smaller pool," allowing for "higher variation" in the student progress grade, Nightengale said. Roxane Bosch, a Columbia Secondary parent who is in charge of school admissions, agreed that the rankings were not representative of the school's quality. "There are many A schools where I would never send my kid to for different reasons," Bosch said. "If the parent knows how to read a progress report, going back from an A to a C will not affect us," she added. Her daughter, 10th-grader Paula Schicchi, said that her experience has been positive at Columbia Secondary, where some students enroll in Columbia classes a few blocks south. Schicchi pointed out the school's unique enrichment opportunities, such as a trip to Europe for 10th-graders that is being added to the curriculum. "We have AP classes, we have 30 kids going to Columbia. ... We have a wider variety of classes," Schicchi said. "Our teachers, they definitely give 100 percent." P.S. 125, located in the same building, got a C for the second year in a row, down from a B two years ago. Ana Nova, a special education assistant teacher, described the school's new principal, Reginald Higgins, who was hired last year, as "the bomb." Higgins "cares about the kids, cares about the teachers," Nova said, adding that he's also looking to up parent involvement in the school. Next year, she said confidently, "We're supposed to get an A." At KIPP Infinity, which ranked in the 96th percentile, parents said they were happy with the school. Brenda Murillo said that her daughter is "happy now that she's going to school. KIPP pushes them to be the best." "They teach that doing good creates good," she added. Although the rankings can have serious ramifications for the future of the school—three C grades in a row can lead to a school's closure—parents and administrators stressed that what's more important is their children's experience in the school. For KIPP Infinity second-grader Jada, the way she ranks school is simple. "My favorite part of school is everything," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org Correction: An earlier version of this story credited Miriam Nightengale for improving the ranking of the Columbia Secondary School in the 2010-2011 DOE rankings. In fact, she took over as principal following that year's rankings. Spectator regrets the error.
Courtland Thomas for Spectator