Williamsburg, NY - Tiferes Bnos Students Achieve Academic Success Despite the Odds
Last updated on: October 26, 2012 12:48 PM
Williamsburg, NY - Tiferes Bnos, the Charedi all-girls school situated between the Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy sections in Brooklyn, was recently profiled by WNYC.org (http://bit.ly/VrS45r), and is being touted as a model for other schools, including public schools, to follow.
That the students at Tiferes Bnos perform exceptionally well on state standardized tests despite seemingly insurmountable odds is remarkable. The school is similar to many elementary schools in the Hasidic community. The majority of the schools’ students and the teachers live in poverty; they speak Yiddish as their primary language; and less than half of the school week is dedicated to learning secular subjects like math, reading, science and social studies. The teachers are typically only a few years older than their students; they have no formal education and they earn just $6,000 a year.
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Yet, in the 2008-2009 academic year, the fourth-grade class took the New York State standardized exams for the first time and earned an 87% proficiency score in English and a 97% proficiency score in math.
The teachers say the secret to both their and their students’ success lies with their principal, Miriam Amsel. Amsel, a mother of six who never completed college, has managed to draw out academic excellence from both her students and teachers.
Amsel, who refers to herself as “the chief learner,” attributes her students’ achievement to the intense on-the-job training she provides for her teachers which starts a full six months before they even begin teaching. “We’re here to educate teachers,” she said. “What’s really powerful is they feel like they’re the experts.”
There is a national movement to increase student achievement by retraining teachers, and Tiferes Bnos has successfully implemented many of the new strategies developed to best train teachers. Anita Murphy, a former associate commissioner with the New York State Department of Education, said she was very impressed when she visited the school last year. “She’s very planned about how she delivers instruction to her teachers,” Murphy said about Amsel. “It’s not nonsense professional development.”
The professional development Amsel offers mainly consists of a monthly evaluation meeting, where teachers sit in a circle and share their struggles and solicit advice from one another. The more experienced teachers offer to conduct workshops on issues of concern to newer, younger educators, such as how to better manage their classrooms. Amsel also recommends books on selected topics. “They don’t feel forced to grow, but they would feel out of place if they didn’t,” she said.
The school also uses federal monies given to private schools that enroll low-income students to enhance their professional development. Australian United States Services in Education, the largest professional development provider in New York City, periodically comes to the school to train teachers in math.
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