Every year, the U.S. Department of Education gives about 300 schools nationwide–fewer than 1% of schools– the coveted National Blue Ribbon Award, and every year a handful go to New York City schools.
But this year there was a first.
One of the awards went to a school in Brownsville–the first time that a school in the neighborhood ever got a National Blue Ribbon Award.
At this school–Uncommon Schools’ Leadership Prep Ocean Hill–97% of the students are black or Latino and over 80% of them qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The school is in one of the lowest income neighborhoods in the country.
And yet, last year, 99% of its third graders passed the rigorous New York State math exams. That’s a higher percentage than in Scarsdale.
“Leadership Prep, and the families and students of Brownsville, are showing us what many overlook, that our lowest income kids in places with the least opportunity have high aspirations for themselves and limitless potential,” said Derrell Bradford, executive director of NYCan, an advocacy group focused on the success of all New York students. “New Yorkers of all stripes should be proud and take note of what’s happening here.”
The principal of Leadership Prep’s elementary academy, Rachel King, announced the news to elementary students and parents at a pep rally on Friday morning.
“I would like to congratulate Ocean Hill/Brownsville’s very own Leadership Prep on receiving the National Blue Ribbon Award,” said Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brownsville) in a statement. “The students, faculty and staff of Leadership Prep have been working vigorously and their hard work has not gone unnoticed. I commend them for this accolade and I am looking forward to future accomplishments from this institution.”
Leadership Prep Ocean Hill has consistently outperformed other public schools with more affluent student populations on New York state assessment exams. This last year, the elementary school ranked in the top 2% in math and English language arts out of 2,500 New York state elementary schools.
Compared with Scarsdale, NY, where none of the students are considered economically disadvantaged, Leadership Prep Ocean Hill outperformed all five elementary schools in math and all but one of the five Scarsdale schools in ELA.
Five other schools won a National Blue Ribbon in New York City this year, including Icahn Charter School 5, P.S. 130 Hernando De Soto School, P.S. 195 Manhattan Beach School, P.S. 748 The Brooklyn School for Global Scholars, and P.S. 115Q The James J. Ambrose School. This is the second year in a row that Uncommon Schools wins a National Blue Ribbon award in Brooklyn.
“This award confirms that positive relationships paired with a love of learning can lead to strong academic achievement for students,” King said. “We are thrilled that our community of students, parents and staff members can celebrate this accomplishment together.”
Founded in 2010, Leadership Prep Ocean Hill is one of 23 public charter schools operated by Uncommon Schools in Brooklyn. Uncommon Schools operates a total of 52 schools in three states: New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
With more than 54 percent of children growing up in households under the poverty line (more than double the NYC average), Brownsville is the poorest neighborhood in Brooklyn and a recent NY Daily News article labeled it Brooklyn’s worst neighborhood for children. Uncommon Schools has opened two elementary schools and four middle schools in the neighborhood over the past eight years.
Uncommon’s students are already making huge strides to close the college graduation gap. Eight in 10 Uncommon Schools alumni are on track to graduate from college within six years of high school graduation – one of the highest rates in the country. Across the country, fewer than 10% of low-income students ever graduate from college. At Leadership Prep Ocean Hill, every student is expected to graduate high school and go on to college; many will be the first in their family to do so.
“We always knew they could do it, but now everybody knows nationally that we can do it,” said Tamika Marcellin, a parent of two middle school children, who has been living in Brownsville for more than 30 years and came to celebrate at the morning circle.