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City Backtracks on Vow To Open a New Middle School in DUMBO, Parents Say

By Nikhita Venugopal | October 5, 2015 5:43pm | Updated on October 6, 2015 1:04pm
 The building at 209 York St., which is shared by P.S. 307 and M.S. 313.
The building at 209 York St., which is shared by P.S. 307 and M.S. 313.
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DNAinfo/Janet Upadhye

BROOKLYN — Years after promising to open a brand-new middle school for students in DUMBO, the Department of Education has announced that it will instead relocate a troubled existing middle school into the space.

Education officials said last week that they are planning to relocate the Satellite West Middle School (M.S. 313) to the site from its current space at 209 York St., which is contrary to what community education officials believed were ironclad plans to create a new middle school called I.S. 611 inside the new Two Trees development rising at 19 Dock St.

M.S. 313, which serves 86 students from sixth through eighth grades, has struggled with shrinking enrollment amid reports of violence and landed on the state's "persistently dangerous" rankings for the first time this year.

Tim Castanza of the DOE's office of district planning told parents and education community council members during a District 13 meeting Wednesday night that after M.S. 313 is relocated to 19 Dock St., “we would expect the current Satellite West enrollment to grow in that space.”

The move would "allow Satellite West [M.S. 313] to grow and make use of new middle school space,"  the DOE's Office of District Planning said in its presentation at last week's meeting, which was intended to discuss the contentious rezoning of P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights and P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill, which houses M.S. 313.

But according to local school leaders, city education officials said two years ago that an entirely new school called I.S. 611 with approximately 300 new seats would be placed inside the Dock Street development.

Satellite West's move effectively shuts down plans for a new middle school in the Dock Street development, critics say.

"I.S. 611 was supposed to be a new option for families. It's not turning out that way," Maggie Spillane, a member of District 13's Community Education Council said at Wednesday's meeting. "It seems that the Dock Street building has become an afterthought to this rezoning," she said.

“Where is I.S. 611?” asked CEC member Rob Underwood at the meeting. 

The DOE said in a statement that "we committed to the CEC that we would use the Dock Street building for middle school seats in the district, which is what we’ve done."

“By moving Satellite West Middle School to the new Dock Street building, we will be able create an additional 230 middle school seats in a new, state-of-the-art facility, while simultaneously allowing P.S. 307 to grow its enrollment," DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said.

"We will continue to engage families and the community as we work to redesign Satellite West Middle School when it moves into its new facility," Hartfield said.

The DOE released additional information days after the meeting, including that M.S. 313 will have a science lab, a music suite with a classroom, practice cubicles as well as a storage room for instruments. 

The school's "redesign," beginning this year, will also affect its academic programming, which the DOE says will increase demand for the middle school.  

The DOE projects that if M.S. 313 moves to Dock Street next year, its enrollment will increase from 86 students to roughly 130 to 160 students. In the 2018-19 school year, it is projected to serve 285 to 315 students, according to the official proposal released on Friday. 

A joint public hearing on the proposal will be held 6 p.m. on Nov. 2 at 209 York St. The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the proposal at 6 p.m. on Nov. 19 at M.S. 131, located at 100 Hester St.

Satellite West's move to Dock Street is a crucial part of the rezoning proposal that would expand P.S. 307's enrollment while shrinking P.S. 8's, a severely overcrowded school, DOE officials said.

Officials say that by moving Satellite West M.S. 313 out of P.S. 307's space, they will be able to make room for more incoming elementary school students. 

In August, Satellite West was placed on a list of 27 New York City schools designated "persistently dangerous" by the state Department of Education for the 2015-16 school year.  

A school is placed onto the "persistently dangerous" list if it has 60 or more violent incidents and scores high on a special rating over two consecutive years, among other issues.

City officials said they plan to conduct assessments and regularly visit M.S. 313 to review data, track progress and offer technical support. Professional development will also be provided for "Restorative Practices," "Conflict Resolution," anti-bullying, and other issues, they said.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, students attending a "persistently dangerous" school can legally transfer to a safer public school, which will be determined by local school authorities, according to the state DOE.

Parents say the move by the DOE shows a lack of understanding of the situation in the district, which includes Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, DUMBO, parts of Central Brooklyn and a portion of Park Slope. Parents say the area lacks the kind of quality middle schools needed for high-achieving students.

Underwood, who has blogged about the issue, said he would not support the rezoning proposal until the DOE provided more clarity on its plan for the Dock Street school. The CEC's approval is needed for the rezoning to move forward and their vote is expected to take place next month.

Enrollment at the school has steadily dropped over the last six years, according to state school safety data. In the 2009-10 school year, Satellite West had 217 students. That number has dropped to 85 this year.

"I don't personally think that the school is dangerous," Underwood said. "The issue is the perception it creates for prospective fifth-grade families."