A large neighborhood school in the quiet Gravesend neighborhood, David A. Boody Magnet School has long been known for its strong magnet programs especially in science and music - that attract kids not just from the neighborhood but from all over Brooklyn. In 2007, after a few years of what longtime teacher called a "laissez faire" attitude from administrators, Dominick D'Angelo became principal. With management skills honed from 16 years in business and banking, D'Angelo rolled up his cuff-linked sleeves, tackled safety issues, and made sure the building got a physical upgrade and new technology even as he made ambitious plans for academic changes.
Offering 13 "talents" ranging from science to chess to the arts, Boody is especially noted for its strong music program, led by teachers who also conduct the Brooklyn Youth Orchestra, in which many Boody students participate. There are three rooms dedicated to music; the school boasts a full symphony orchestra and a jazz band. Chess is led by a teacher who is "eccentric but brilliant," according to one of his colleagues; his 2007-08 team of 7th graders landed the novice city championship. Visual art is also particularly strong as evident in student work hanging throughout the school. The school has long offered a popular program in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians). It had been discontinued the year of our visit, but the plan was to bring it back in 2008-09. We saw a healthy contingent of reptiles living in tanks including Iggy the Iguana and a skink.
Some academic classes we visited, alas, lacked the spark of the "talents" and we saw some bored students, with heads on desks. While a few teachers did a good job of integrating the arts into academic subjects and followed a hands-on, project-oriented approach to teaching, others appeared to rely heavily on worksheets and dry textbook lessons. "We have work to do," the principal said. "I think we have a good vision for the future we would like to see more student-focused types of work."
There were exceptions: A 6th grade class studying early American history, made three dimensional models of the Mayflower which were hanging from the ceiling. Math students skillfully drew portraits of noted mathematicians such as Phythagoras to illustrate research papers. We saw several math lessons incorporating topics of interest to students: for a lesson on fractions and percentages, students calculated the amount of money spent on commercials during the Super Bowl.
All the rooms we visited were nicely laid out, and well equipped both with technology such as Smart Boards and laptop computers, and classroom libraries. The science wing of the school was particularly impressive with a colorful display commemorating 50 years of space exploration hanging in the hallways, made by students in an astronomy class.
D'Angelo has ambitious academic goals for the school, including the introduction of Mandarin Chinese and Latin into the curriculum. He also plans to divide the school into three distinct academies, grouped around the talents.
Boody has a nice multi-ethnic mix of students, 10% of whom are classified as English Language Learners. The few classes we visited for those students did not appear to have a strong curriculum a weakness the principal said he planned to address.
Prior to D'Angelo's arrival, there were complaints about fights in and around the school and other safety issues. This, the principal addressed head-on, teachers said, with such efforts as setting the same dismissal time for the whole school, replacing the solid walls in the stairwells with see-through metal grids and becoming a visible presence around the school. 'I lead by example," he told us. "I'm out in the schoolyard at 7:30 a.m. Visibility creates a climate where not as many things will go wrong." School aides control the access to bathrooms. We saw no signs of unruliness on our visit and many students greeted the principal by name, calling him "Mr. D."
Four classes on each grade are honors or "SP" classes which follow an accelerated curriculum. Graduates go on to specialized high schools including LaGuardia, Stuyvesant, and Brooklyn Tech. Popular choices closer to home are Leon Goldstein, Murrow, Midwood and Madison.
Admission: Like Mark Twain and Bay Academy, Boody accepts children from across Brooklyn who audition for the magnet program. Unlike those schools, Boody is also a neighborhood school. Children who live in the school zone are automatically admitted.
Special education: Boody has a solid, well-established special education program. There are five classes for kids with special needs only. However, rather than remain in one class all day, which is customary in many schools, students travel to other classrooms for different subjects and take part in all the "talents". In the 2007-08 Boody began its first 6th grade team-teaching class, integrating special education students with general education students in classes led by two teachers.
After school: A local Italian-American organization runs an after school program offering a wide range of activities: computers, drama, specialized high school prep and robotics. There are also Saturday programs and sports including field hockey and tennis. (The school was also profiled in New York City's Best Public Middle Schools, Pamela Wheaton, February 2008)