“Going to a regular academic school and also being able to have music lessons, playing an instrument, chorus, ear training and theory – it all comes together here, and that’s really special because not many schools have that.” - SMS student
New York City's only K-12 public school for musically gifted children
Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center (P.S. 859) is a groundbreaking public school for musically gifted children offering musical training, including private instrumental lessons, during the regular school day. The school combines intensive instrumental study with a rigorous academic program, providing a strong foundation for a lifetime of music without compromising academic studies. Modeled on the renowned special music schools of the former Soviet Union, Special Music School at Kaufman Music Center successfully ensures that music is a primary component of each child's education.
Founded in 1996, Special Music School represents a unique public/private partnership between Kaufman Music Center, a nonprofit multi-arts organization, and the New York City Department of Education, which funds the academic portion of the students’ education. The music program is fully funded by Kaufman Music Center through private contributions. As with all public schools, tuition is free to residents of the residents of the five boroughs of New York City. The music program goes from kindergarten through grade 12.
Special Music School combines the music program with a rigorous academic curriculum in a holistic learning environment that encourages children to make connections between all forms of knowledge, from music to mathematics. Its students consistently score at or near the top of all New York City public schools on statewide and citywide reading and math tests, and in 2010 The Wall Street Journal ranked the school 7th in its list of top-scoring schools. Every child (K–8) has two private lessons per week on an instrument in addition to at least three other music classes, which might include Theory, Chorus, Dalcroze Eurhythmics or Music History, and a performance class—all taught by distinguished music professionals. Approximately three-quarters of each student’s time is spent on academic subjects. The curriculum is based on New York State and New York City learning standards.
Parental support and involvement are very important due to the extra challenges presented by the dual focus of the curriculum on both music and academics. Parents also help support the school through service and voluntary contributions.
Special Music School is intended for children who exhibit strong musical potential and whose parents feel that music should be a primary component of their children’s education. Students must live in one of the five boroughs of New York City to be eligible. Each year, the school accepts a new kindergarten class, and there may additionally be a limited number of places for students in grades 1-8. Acceptance of K-2 students is based solely on an assessment of musical giftedness through a series of age-appropriate individual and group activities relating to music; no prior musical training is necessary. Children applying for grades three and above will have an instrumental audition.
Special Music School High School
In the fall of 2013, Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School (P.S. 859) expanded into the high school grades at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Educational Complex on New York City’s Upper West Side, with a music curriculum that emphasizes the development of the student as a musician for the 21st century. With the establishment of the high school extension, Special Music School High School (SMS) is the city’s only K-12 school that teaches music as a core subject. The school is unique even among New York’s highly regarded arts high schools in providing talented young musicians the opportunity to pursue serious, pre-professional music studies along with a rigorous academic curriculum.
The new high school updates the traditional model of classical music education in order to prepare students for the multifaceted and diverse opportunities available to today’s musicians. At a time of rapid change in the professional music world, we are committed to putting our students on a professional music path that will answer the demands of 21st century music. In addition to helping students build extremely strong core skills as music makers, SMS High School prepares them to improvise and compose as well as perform, understand music technology and collaborate with other musicians both in small and large groups while providing meaningful experience working with living composers.
Open to SMS eighth grade graduates as well as students from all five boroughs of New York City, the high school admits 50 students per grade beginning with ninth grade in 2013-14 school year. For information call 212 501 3395.
For an application, please use our new online application, which can be completed online. Open House meetings at which program information is provided and questions are answered are held several times throughout the year. No reservations are needed. More information on Open Houses can be found here.
Music Theory Curriculum
Special Music School educators have developed an important resource for teachers and parents: a music theory curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade. Within the SMS community, the new curriculum serves teachers and helps parents understand what their children will be learning at various levels. It can enhance music theory teaching in educational environments outside SMS as well by stimulating growth in those programs, and by helping private teachers looking for grade-appropriate content.