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Parents Talk Admissions, Courses with Principal of New UES Middle School

 M.S. 177 will open for the 2014-2015 under the direction of Prinicpal Christina Riggio, pictured here with Superintendent Mariano Guzman.
M.S. 177 will open for the 2014-2015 under the direction of Prinicpal Christina Riggio, pictured here with Superintendent Mariano Guzman.
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DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

YORKVILLE — Parents had the chance to meet the leader of a new Upper East Side middle school Tuesday night — peppering the incoming principal with questions ranging from the admissions process to math and foreign language classes.

M.S. 177 is slated to open in the fall of 2014 with Principal Christina Riggio at the helm. The school, which is the hard-won result of a campaign by parents and local leaders, will co-locate in the building occupied by P.S. 158 on York Avenue. M.S. 177 will eventually serve 250 to 300 middle school students, but many other details about the school are still hazy.

“The new school will be a close-knit learning environment that will serve a wide variety of folks,” said District 2 Superintendent Mariano Guzman, before fielding questions from parents at the meeting at P.S. 158.

Many of the questions concerned the admissions process, which parents said they found confusing.

M.S. 177 will be a school with limited screened admissions, meaning that half of the roughly 80 students who are admitted in the school’s inaugural year will have to meet certain admissions criteria, such as good grades or high test scores. The unscreened half of applicants will be admitted based on a lottery system, with preference given to those who attend an information session.

Drew Patterson, a Department of Education representative, emphasized that students can apply through both the screened and unscreened options simultaneously. For this year only, students can rank M.S. 177 as a top option without risking their chance of admission to other screened schools.  

Parents also asked how Riggio plans to evaluate students who apply through the screened option. She said she was still developing the criteria, which may include a writing assignment and an interview. She expected to have a decision within the next few weeks.

Riggio is also working on creating a website for the school so that parents can access information as it is updated.

Other parents wanted to know specifics about the curriculum, including whether or not the school would offer foreign language and Regents-level math classes in the eighth grade.

Riggio said that there will be no language classes in the first year, but that students may be able to study other language during lunch or in after-school clubs. She plans to offer Regents courses eventually, but has not made a firm decision on which math curriculum she will use.

Instead, Riggio said that the school will emphasize interdisciplinary and project-based learning. She gave the example of a sixth-grade unit on Greece in which students will study and write myths in English class, design their own civilizations in social studies, and analyze methods for archaeological dating in science class.

Riggio has not served as a principal before, but has taught at the middle school level and worked in other educational leadership roles. After teaching social studies at JHS 117 in The Bronx, she went on to work as an achievement coach at the Children First Network. A Teach for America alum, Riggio also completed Columbia Teachers’ College Summer Principals Academy.

Working with middle school students holds a special appeal for her, she told the assembled crowd Tuesday.

“I love middle school,” she said. “It’s a transitional time in kids’ lives. With change comes an opportunity to expand their interests and their love of learning.” 

In spite of the uncertainties, many parents were still excited about the possibilities of the new school.

“It is untested,” said Jyoti Mahtani, whose daughter will apply for middle school next year. “However, I also think it could be a great opportunity for a child — to be a founding member of a school is special.”

Matthew Chook, the co-president of the PTA at P.S. 267, was also hopeful.

“Yes, there are still some questions,” he said. “But I think it will be a success because the parents and community leaders of District 2 won’t accept anything less.”