This morning we had a visit and tour of MS 447, the Math and Science Exploratory School (which is also called–or also used to be called?–the Upper Carroll School). This one was quite good, and really confirmed my opinions of both Sunset Park Prep (good) and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (not so good).

Here the emphasis is on Math and Science–with a good deal of writing and art thrown in, too. Students pick either math or science as a specialty, and also pick a “talent” (like graphic arts, technology, dance, drama, and so on) that they stick with throughout the three years. I did see evidence of an active art and art analysis program, so it’s not just all math and science.

Students seemed to be much more engaged and confident and organized in their work, both in classes where they were working in small groups (my wife observed several of those), and in more teacher-centered lessons. The academics seemed relatively rigorous, and the teachers (with only very few exceptions) were alert and enthusiastic. The general atmosphere was calm and productive, and the student work that was posted (and going on in the classes) was appropriately high quality. It did seem that the science and math assignments were more challenging, and the results more advanced, than the writing and reading assignments. The building is old, but newly renovated and very spacious and pleasant.

The school has an off-site program one day a week, so kids have a rotating partnership with off-campus organizations…like the NY Hall of Science, the Brooklyn Aquarium, the Botanic Garden, and so on. That can be a good thing, if it’s well-integrated into the curriculum, or it can be a big waste of time, if it’s not. It was hard to tell in which way it was implemented at 447, but overall I’d be inclined (after seeing what was going on in the classrooms) to assume that it would be well-integrated. The curriculum seemed to be well-designed enough, and well-integrated enough generally, that the off-site programs would be likely to echo that.

Overall, I thought the school was very good, and I would not be at all displeased if my daughter ends up there. There were a few minuses, but most of them are specific to my daughter and her specific needs and interests–she likes science, but it’s not her main favorite subject (that would be writing/journalism, probably), and she’s really not fond of math. Generaly speaking, I don’t love the idea of having middle-schoolers choose a specialty, but if there’s enough flexibility and diversity within that specialty, it could be OK. I also felt that the quality of the teachers and the curriculum, while they were very good, were not as consistently excellent as I saw at Sunset Park Prep, and the academic work was (very slightly) less challenging–especially in social studies and ELA (my daughter’s strongest areas, where she really could use more challenge).

On the other hand, 447 is a slightly easier commute to and from our home (one subway stop and then one block, as opposed to three subway stops and then four blocks for Sunset Park), and has a more diverse student population, with slightly more of a chance that some of the kids in the school would also live right in our immediate neighborhood.

At this moment, I’d say that Sunset Park Prep is still my first choice (but not by a large margin) with MS 447 almost equal.