School Observation: Springfield Gardens Middle School
The focus of this school observation is PS 59, Springfield Gardens Middle School in New York City. The observation was conducted in three separate settings: a math class, the cafeteria, and the school’s main office. The goal of the observation was to gain insight on the relationships between different stakeholders in the school community, including teachers, students, staff, administration, and parents, and how these relationships influence the connectedness of the school environment. The assumption is that school connectedness as summarized by Blum (2004), can be measured by the presence or absence of factors such as positive student-faculty rapport, high academic expectations, and publically displayed efforts to strengthen school culture and safety. The observations of the school, thus, considered school connectedness as evidenced by student-teacher rapport, exhibition of student work, teaching methods, and classroom comportment, and interaction between staff members. In addition, student body and staff demographics were noted in each observational setting.
The first location for observation was Mr. Duggan’s math class. The students arrived to class tardy, and took some time to settle in. Mr. Duggan has a strong rapport with his students, and as soon as the class got underway the students were attentive and engaged. Mr. Duggan return a recent test during the second part of the class period, and the student’s response shifted, as many students seemed less engaged. The class average on the math test was approximately sixty percent, and Mr. Duggan noted that some pupils performed quite well, he expressed his disappointment in the overall scores. The material on the test was mainly geometry, and appeared quite advanced for the grade level. Mr. Duggan’s class was engaging and his style of behavior management was direct and very effective. There were few disruptions during the class period, but the overall tone of the class, especially the low test scores, seemed to indicate that a good number of students were not working up to standard. They was no discussion of strategies for improvement, and no mention of any remediation tasks, such as corrections or extra assignments, for students who scored below average. Overall, though, this classroom environment was quite a bit more orderly than the hallway area, which was observed during the transition to the lunch hour.
Staff members were present to supervise lunch before the students arrived, but the rush of pupils from the hallway into the cafeteria was quite overwhelming, and it took several minutes for students to form an orderly line and get their food. The food selections for free lunch, which included fried chicken nuggets, were of markedly poor nutritional value. Students did not have assigned seating, and, rather, sat in self-selected peer groups. The atmosphere in the lunchroom was fairly orderly after students settled down to eat, but a good deal of profanity and inappropriate conversation was noted. The cafeteria lacks any displays of student work or educational materials, so the school seems to be overlooking the opportunity to engage students while they are eating. The staff members in the cafeteria were well prepared and professional, but there was little direct or informal interaction between adults and students, and this tone carried over into the main office.
Three female receptionists, who answer phone calls and respond to visitor, teacher, and student needs, staff the school’s office. The principal’s work area is connected to the main office, and the staff members call upon him as needed. A fairly bleak space, the office has few decorations or visual information about the school’s culture or student body. The staff members running the office are professional and collegial with one another. At one point during the observation a student arrived and stated that he had been sent out of class because he was not supposed to be in school due to suspension. The principal, Mr. Gordon, and parent liaison both addressed this issue, and after a bit of an argument the young man sat quietly until his mother arrived to escort him home. There was also a disruption in the hallway, as several students engaged in horseplay. It was unclear why they were not in a classroom, and Mr. Gordon emerged from his office, verbally reprimanded them, and told them to go back to class. Towards the end of the observation, a family came into the office to request information regarding enrollment, and the staff quickly attended to them, offering information and assistance.
From the perspective of school connectedness, (Blum, 2004) PS 59 has some obvious areas for growth. First, the math curriculum and testing strategies may need to be more relevant to students. Mr. Duggan may need to consider ways to incorporate real-life examples of math facts, especially when teaching geometry. Offering incentives and public recognition, such as a bulletin board, extra privileges, or public acknowledgement, for students with high test scores, could increase student engagement, and this theme should be connected across the school by displaying student achievements and school news in public spaces. In addition, students with low test scores should be expected to correct their exams or engage in extra tutoring time. Neither strategy was mentioned or enacted when the tests were returned to students.
In 2010 evaluations conducted by the New York City Department of Education, students and staff rated the school very poorly for behavior and safety. Student behavior during class transitions and in unstructured settings shows a lack of effective adult supervision across all three observation sites. Staff should be more present in the hallways, interact more with students during the lunch period, and students should face immediate disciplinary consequences for poor behavior in the hallways. Consequences or disciplinary actions should be consistently and clearly implements. For example, students should know there are consequences for running or horseplay in the hallways, and a student who is suspended from school should not return to school without a reentry conference. The issues with the suspended student and students in the hallway during class time are indicative of lax supervision and unclear disciplinary guidelines. Blum (2004) indicates that students often respond to consistent messages of high expectations concerning both behavior and academics. The school’s principal should lead this effort by setting a serious tone and making an extra effort to prompt appropriate student behavior when even small incidents of poor comportment occur. Students should have a strong sense that there is no tolerance for horseplay or aggressive behavior in unstructured and unsupervised settings such as hallways or outdoor spaces.
The overall decor of the cafeteria and the principal’s office reflect little effort in the creation of a school culture or connectedness among community members. There is no faculty or staff news posted, and the school’s mission, accomplishments, and student work are not publically displayed. As a result, it’s difficult for visitors or school community members to get any true sense of what students are learning or how they are progressing in their academics or extra curricular activities. A school can optimize successes by promoting them publically, and because PS 59 lacks any presentation of community events or accomplishments, it is hard to get a sense of the school’s culture. One way to achieve this in a school this size is to organize more closely by grade level or to develop small learning communities in which cohorts of students and teachers work together in teams. These strategies often allow large schools to strengthen the sense of connectedness and student-faculty rapport.
While the school has some major need for growth and increased connectedness, the observations indicate they have a professional and attentive faculty and staff. The presence of many African-American employees, including the principal, indicates that students have a variety of relevant role models in their daily school experience. Working from this strength, the school should consider ways in which it can build a culture defined by appropriate behavior and high academic standards, by promoting academic achievement and increased school pride. The school should consider using professional development time to outline a comprehensive plan to enhance school connectedness, indentifying and implementing three to five strategies as outlined by Blum (2004).
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2004). School “Connectedness: Improving Student’s Lives.” Baltimore, Maryland. Blum, R.
New York City Department of Education. (2010) “I.S. 059 Springfield Gardens: Progress Report, 2009-2010.” NYC Department of Education, New York, New York. Retrieved from http://schools.nyc.gov/OA/SchoolReports/2009-10/Progress_Report_Overview_2010_EMS_Q059.pdf. 24, Feb. 2011.
New York City Department of Education. (2010) “I.S. 059 Springfield Gardens: Learning Environment Survey Report: 2009-2010.” NYC Department of Education, New York, New York. Retrieved from http://schools.nyc.gov/OA/SchoolReports/2009-10/Survey_2010_Q059.pdf. 24,Feb. 2011.
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