Just a year ago, the city’s education department called P.S. 207 “persistently dangerous” thanks to widespread bullying and an administration that refused to communicate, let alone do anything about it.
It’s a much different story today, however, after the city’s emergency management department presented the Godwin Terrace school as its best when it comes to being prepared in an emergency situation.
“To get the word that we were receiving this award just solidified all the work that we’ve done for the year,” said Tara O’Brien, the acting principal who joined the school for students up to the second grade at the beginning of the academic year. “The kids were very excited. Parents were very excited. It’s all been a community effort. We’ve worked with the parents all year long on building safety at the school, and it’s being recognized.”
The education department implemented changes such as quadrupling the number of adults supervising lunch periods, conducting safety meetings, and increasing communication with parents. It all followed O’Brien’s temporary appointment to the school’s administrative role.
“We’re very proud of the principalship and the leadership of this school,” Yvette Sy, principal leadership facilitator for District 10 superintendent Maribel Torres-Hulla, said. P.S. 207 being the only school to receive the honor is a “big first step” to showing the school is “on the rise,” she added.
First-grader Silva Pllumbaj said she’s learned that safety is very important through the changes at the school.
“If there is a fire drill and you get left out, that’s bad, because the fireman will come and take you outside,” she said.
Parents like Al Guervaz praised O’Brien’s work.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Guervaz, who also is vice president of the school’s parents association. “It’s great the job that we have done.”
Before O’Brien’s leadership, parents never saw any safety drills or even knew any of the school’s safety procedures, Guervaz said. This year, the school developed an evacuation plan. On top of that, P.S. 207 had no reported incidents of bullying this year.
Even Guervaz’s two daughters, both P.S. 207 students, reminded him of safety tips adults take for granted, like staying low to the ground as possible in a fire.
“The school looks clean,” said Sandra Rosario, another parent. “It looks safe. We as parents feel real safety. We feel happy.”
O’Brien’s leadership, including better communication, has made Rosario feel comfortable when she drops her daughter Maria off at school. And Maria has taken the safety tips to heart. Before they cross a street, Maria tells her they must wait for the “walk” signal. She even asked her mother to be the designated person to call 911 at home should an emergency situation arise.
“When we were working with (the school), they had a flood in their kitchen, so they had a real-life emergency that they handled flawlessly,” Christina Farrell, deputy commissioner at the emergency management department, said. Both the educators and students put into practice the safety lessons they learn at the beginning of the school year.
“Just seeing how much they prepared their students, how much the kids knew about emergency preparedness at the presentation, really struck me that this was a school that really took it seriously,” said Katelyn James, who handles community outreach for the emergency management department.
James organizes information sessions for students with the goal of teaching the importance of memorizing at least two emergency contact numbers, having go bags — with items such as a flashlight, snack bar or small radio — and schools establishing pre-arranged meeting places in the event of an emergency.
Over the past school year, the city’s “Ready New York” program hosted more than 200 presentations in city schools, educating more than 28,000 students. The organization selected P.S. 207 out of more than a dozen other applicants for the award.
Students evacuated the school last fall following a flood in the cafeteria kitchen. “We had a fire drill,” Tiffany Ortiz, a second-grader, said. “What the whole school did was that we went outside and went to our safe location.”
Students walked over to P.S. 7 Milton Fein School where they had lunch and stayed for a few hours. They returned to the building a few hours later.
P.S. 7, located a few blocks away, is the school’s go to location in an evacuation, O’Brien said.
Based on its progress over the past school year, the education department recommended P.S. 207 be removed from the “persistently dangerous” list.
“I’m very grateful and very happy to be here,” O’Brien said. “I’m excited to see what’s coming in the future.”