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Lincoln Towers Info – Schools – PS 199


PS 199
270 West 70th Street
New York, NY 10023
(212) 678-2833

Admissions: neighborhood school

Grade levels: K - 5

Reading scores: ****

Enrollment: 485

Math scores: ****

Class size: K, 25; 5, 29

Ethnicity: 61%W 15%B 16%H 8%A

When to apply: October

Free lunch: 23%

 Designed by Edward Durell Stone, the architect who designed the Museum of Modern Art and the General Motors building in midtown, PS 199 has grand white columns reminiscent of Lincoln Center; soaring ceilings with subtle, recessed lighting; and wide, gleaming halls. It has a large auditorium, a beautiful gym, a well-equipped library and computer room, and several playgrounds that open out directly from ground-floor classrooms.

 Strong, coherent leadership; a unified staff with a shared vision of education; and an active parent organization have made PS 199 one of the most popular and successful schools in the district. In recent years, it has attracted increasing numbers of upper-middle-class families who live in the neighborhood. As a result, it is increasingly difficult for families from outside the zone to get a seat for their children.

 Don’t be put off by the tours for prospective parents, in which the school is presented as a somewhat rigid, forbidding place where administrators are preoccupied by rules and regulations. Principal Carol Stock may have an imposing, formidable personality on first meeting, but she is unusually knowledgeable and thoughtful about curriculum and has a talent for finding great teachers.

 The school is one of few in the district that are wheelchair accessible, and parents say the presence of disabled children helps make the school a particularly gentle and tolerant place. One year, the whole school went skating at a rink in Central Park, and children in wheelchairs were pushed across the ice by other kids.

 Children who are physically disabled but able to keep up with the regular curriculum without extra help are assigned to regular classrooms. Children with emotional or learning disabilities are sometimes taught separately and sometimes included in general education classes with extra support from specially trained teachers.

 The school strikes a balance between traditional and progressive teaching techniques. The tone is fairly formal: Parents are welcome for special events and may visit if they make an appointment, but aren’t encouraged to just drop by. Teachers are called by their last names. Children move through the hallways quietly and settle down to work quickly. Children sometimes fill in old-fashioned worksheets with phonics drills and lists of spelling words.

 The school has a long-standing collaboration with the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College. Children learn to write by making up their own stories and inventing their own spelling – at least in the beginning. The administration believes children need to learn to communicate on paper before they learn dictionary spelling and that children write best when they feel there is a purpose to their work. “You’re always writing for a real audience,” said Mrs. Stock.

 The math curriculum is the progressive Everyday Math program developed by the University of Chicago, in which children experiment with different ways to solve problems rather than using one set formula given to them by the teacher. The curriculum is based on the notion that small children learn math best by manipulating concrete objects they can touch and feel – plastic tokens or coin – rather than relying on more abstract paper-and-pencil exercises.

 Musicians from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra – some of whom send their own children to the school – work with teachers to develop music programs. A Julliard-trained musician teaches chorus. A bass player from the Philharmonic taught children music composition and how to write variations on a theme; professional musicians then played the children’s compositions at a free concert at a local bookstore. Children sometimes get free tickets to performances at the Philharmonic. One year, a staff member of the Metropolitan Opera helped 1st graders write and perform their own operas.

 The administration is philosophically opposed to gifted education, and children are not grouped by ability. The father of one high-achieving boy transferred his child from PS 199 to the high-powered Anderson gifted program because he felt the child wasn’t challenged sufficiently. But Mrs. Stock says children from Anderson also transfer to PS 199 because they are overburdened by unreasonable amounts of work. She said PS 199 allows children to work at their own pace and that some students read books such as The Good Earth, typically read by much older students. Other parents concur. “If your child can do a lot, he does a lot,” said one mother of three. “If he can’t, he can work at his own level.”

 Next to the school is a small garden with a fishpond. Children plant in the garden, watch birds, and bring their sketchpads to draw during art class. PS 199 has a wheelchair accessible playground and an unusually large blacktop play area – an important plus for city children who live in small apartments.

 PS 199 accepts applications from children outside the school zone. In recent years, 10 - 25% of the entering class of 75 kindergartners have come from outside the zone. Children from outside the district are rarely accepted. Tours are offered in the fall, and applications are due by early December.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher from Hemphill, C. New York City's Best Public Elementary Schools: a Parents' Guide, Second Edition, (New York: Teachers College Press, (c) 2002 by Teachers College, Columbia University. All rights reserved.), pp. 103-05. To order copies, please contact Teachers College Press at

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