When the city released its annual rankings of the 1,100 public elementary and middle schools last week, it included special education schools for the first time, and one of those schools finished third among all. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
An average class at The Children's School, a small elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has eight students with special needs and 17 without. The school helped pioneer the model of teaching special education students and general education students together, and here it works.
"We have a broad range of abilities and disabilities and that's what the world is, and that's what school should be like," says teacher Steve Quester. "And that’s what every class at The Children's School is like. For our kids, it's just normal."
There are at least two teachers, one aide and often several other educators or therapists in the room. It's called "collaborative team teaching," and in the past five years the number of these classes has more than tripled citywide. Within the next three years, the city plans to transition almost all special needs students into situations like this, learning in the same classroom alongside their general education peers.
Educators say it is actually very hard to do right, since the adults all need to work together seamlessly.
"Everyone, from school aides to my assistant principals to my staff, everyone needs to be active, working together. All their jobs are important," says Principal Arthur Mattia.
The results are impressive. Besides being ranked third-best of all elementary and middle schools in the city, earning a score of 97.7 out of 100, the special ed program came in 20 points higher than the next highest-ranked special ed school in the five boroughs.
Teachers at The Children's School say it is not the result of spending endless hours preparing to take tests.
"The scores are high because the children are learning, not because we are teaching to the test," says Quester.
While the school and its success has generally flown under the radar, parents in this neighborhood know all about it. They clamor to get in, whether or not their children have special needs.
Administrators say they have waitlists with more than 100 names every year.
"There are a lot of very good minds and a lot of dedicated, hardworking individuals who really want to see children grow and learn. Because of that, I think we're very successful," says Mattia.
From teachers and parents to the principal, everyone says this school works because they all work well together.