Creativity, Excellence and Diversity:
P.S. 217 delivers an individualized educational experience with all the assets and resources of a big city school. We foster a warm and welcoming environment where all children are nurtured and encouraged to achieve their fullest potential. Nestled in one of the country’s most diverse neighborhoods, our school fully embraces the rich tapestry of cultures in our community. Come grow with us at 217!
The International School of Arts & Letters
In 2008, a $1.5 million Federal Magnet grant transformed P.S. 217 into the International School of Arts and Letters. The arts enrichment program exposes every child to music, drama, creative writing and studio art that is woven directly into the standard curriculum. In addition, weekly art clubs and after school programs allow children to immerse themselves in an area of particular interest such as puppetry, animation, music and movement, Mandarin, dance, creative writing and much more. Twice a year, major theatrical productions amaze parents and the local community with the children’s talent and the production quality. The scripts are original age-appropriate adaptations created by our teaching staff, costumes are hand-sewn, scenery is created by the children, and musical scores are written in-house and performed by an ensemble of 4th and 5th graders.
Recent productions have included: The Tempest, The Lion, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Academic rigor, unparalleled diversity, arts enrichment, involved parents, a dedicated staff of education professionals and, of course, wonderful children make P.S. 217 a special elementary school experience.
The winter production is typically a classic work of children’s literature and has included The Tempest; The Odyssey and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Spring musical productions have included Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Pippi Longstocking.
Located in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, with an enrollment that tops 1350 children, P.S. 217 is one of the most diverse elementary schools in the city.
Over 30 languages and dialects are spoken at the school including Urdu, Spanish, Bengali, Russian, Chinese, Albanian, Haitian-Creole, Pashto, Tibetan, Turkish, Uzbeki, and of course English. While there is a large English language learner population, our ELA, science and math scores consistently reflect the school’s high-performance environment.
On every grade level there is a gifted class, inclusion classes, self-contained special education classes and the full spectrum of support services.
P.S. 217 has been serving our neighborhood since 1925. While the names have changed, the spirit of bringing diverse members of the community together to learn and grow has continued since its beginning. Among P.S. 217’s alumni are our very own Assistant Principal Mr. Leal, Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel and New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast.
Staff & Administration
Franca Conti, Principal
When Franca Conti delivers the first address to her teachers each September, she asks them to do one thing over all others: love the children. In 2009, under Mrs. Conti’s stewardship, P.S. 217 emerged from corrective action to become a school in good standing—an impressive feat given that over 70 percent of the school’s families do not speak English in the home and over 20 percent of the children come to school speaking no English at all. Franca has built a high-performing juggernaut of a school, with robust year-over-year improvement in math and English scores. When Franca took over the school in 2004, she promised 90 percent proficiency levels in the core subjects, and she made good on that promise.
From 1980 to 1987, Mrs. Conti taught grades four, five and six in Brooklyn at Mary Queen of Heaven. From there, she went to P.S. 203 where she taught the gifted and talented fifth graders. Her dynamic curriculum included Project Legal Lives, a program that brings the legal world of the District Attorney’s office into the classroom. In 1998, Franca brought her experience to a staff developer position at District 22. When Franca was tapped to be an assistant principal at 217, she grabbed the opportunity she considered too appealing to pass up:
Recalls Franca: “I emigrated from Italy as a seven-year-old girl not speaking a word of English. That experience has inspired my whole career in education. Helping children, in all circumstances, achieve their goals is what drives me every day. At P.S. 217, I saw so many children just like myself and I knew the school was my home.”
Jonathan Leal, AP for grade 5 and special education
Jonathan Leal’s special-education expertise is just one of the reasons he is vital to P.S. 217. He has been an educator for over 35 years and since 2003, the assistant principal responsible for both special education and the fifth grade. Since he was 13, he has been singing and playing the guitar, and now he’ll often entertain entire grades with sing-a-longs in the auditorium and in our garden. His guitar club meets weekly and is a highlight at the holiday and spring concerts.
A true-blue local Brooklyn boy, Mr. Leal graduated from P.S. 217, Ditmas Junior High, Erasmus, and Brooklyn College. He holds a B.A. in special education, an M.A. in reading, and an advanced degree in school administration. Says Leal, “I believe all the flowers in the garden grow differently, and everyone can learn and grow when given the proper care and attention… that’s what we provide at P.S. 217.”
Teresa Gochal, AP for grade 4 and ESL
After several years in private industry, Teresa Gochal decided that a career in education was where she wanted to be. She started out as a first grade ESL teacher and later worked with K – 5 English language learners at several District 22 schools. She became a staff developer and worked with teachers in schools from Marine Park to Flatbush. Prior to joining the 217 staff in 2004 she was the ESL/Bilingual coordinator for District 22. Her ESL expertise was perfectly suited to a school where over 70 percent of families don’t speak English in the home. In 2005, Teresa was appointed Assistant Principal for ESL and Grades 3 and 4. “Anyone who knows me knows I love my job. I truly enjoy the children and I’m very proud of the great things that go on here at P.S. 217.”
Jane Takacs, AP for grades 2 and 3
Assistant Principal Jane Van Auken-Takacs began her career in District 22 teaching Kindergarten to Grade 5. She became a staff developer for an early childhood program called Project Child and moved on to become the district’s family literacy coordinator for Even Start—a federal program that combines early childhood education, parenting education, parent-child intergenerational learning, and adult education. One of her sites became a model for the state education department and she was asked to support and train other sites in Brooklyn and Long Island. In 2003 she was awarded a Liberty Medal for Education from the New York Post. “After working at a variety of schools in different roles, I decided I wanted to find one school where I could apply everything I have learned about early childhood education and build partnerships with administrators who share my philosophy of learning.” Ms. Van Auken-Takacs found that partnership at P.S. 217 where she has been the assistant principal for the lower grades since 2006.
Rosanne Riccardelli, AP for grades Pre-K, K and 1
Assistant Principal Rosanne Riccardelli began her career in private schools teaching pre-kindergarten through grade two. Her responsibilities included School Test Coordinator, Co-moderator of the Student Council, Early Childhood Coordinator, Reading and Language Arts Coordinator, and Primary Curriculum Coordinator among others. In 2005 she taught first grade at P.S. 217 and became a Literacy Staff Developer for the lower house in 2006. During this time she was the School Based Mentor for new teachers, coordinator of the Gifted and Talented Testing Program, and chairperson of the School Leadership Team. She was appointed Assistant Principal in June, 2012.
Many waves of children have passed through the doors of PS 217, often immigrant children from all corners of the globe. Using twentyfirst century social media we are in the process of trying to locate our decades of alumni. Many families, whose children graduated from PS 217, still live in the neighborhood. We have several families where the parents are graduates and their children currently attend the school. Two current school employees are PS 217 graduates, Mr. Jonathan Leal, one of the assistant principles and Ms. Andrea Benjamin, the social worker for pre-kindergarten. One of our most famous alumni is the cartoonist Roz Chast, who graduated in 1966. Dr. Eric Kandel attended PS 217 briefly in 1939, beginning days after he arrived in New York from Vienna, Austria. He went on to win a Nobel Prize for Physiology in 2000.
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