WEST VILLAGE — The new middle school being built at 75 Morton St. has been years in the making, and is now in the final stages where local community input can help shape its future.
The players who have advocated for the school since its inception — a group of parents organized as the 75 Morton Community Alliance, the local Community Education Council, and members of the local community board — have held multiple meetings since November where residents have weighed in on the new school's potential theme, education philosophy, admissions process, zone, and eventual principal.
There are still several meetings coming up on 75 Morton. Here's everything you need to know to get involved.
Roughly 10 years ago, local parents organized around concerns that elementary schools in District 2 were overcrowded. They believed this could only mean overcrowding in middle schools in the years to come as well.
In 2008, they eyed the building at 75 Morton St. as a potential site for a new middle school, and started rallying support from the community and local elected officials.
But the building was owned and being used by the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. Transferring ownership to the city Department of Education took years and involved messy politics until then-City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced in 2012 that an agreement had been reached to transfer the building and convert it to a school.
The process was further delayed when the OPDD was unable to move to their new home in Lower Manhattan until 2014 due to damage by Hurricane Sandy. The original goal of opening the school in 2015 became impossible, as construction did not begin until late last year.
The DOE promised an unprecedented level of community involvement in opening the school, but the parents who had rallied to make the school a reality from the start became frustrated when the agency seemed disinterested in including them.
Construction is ongoing, but it is on track to open to its first class of 6th graders in 2017, officials have said.
Parents initially wanted 600 general education and 60 special needs students, but the DOE set the school size at 800 general education and 100 with special needs. A dispute is ongoing over whether the DOE will increase the general education seats to 900.
The 7-story building will be handicap accessible, and the entire second floor will be dedicated to the special needs students, part of a citywide "district" known as District 75.
The special needs students will be allowed anywhere in the school, but the second floor will be off-limits to general education students in order to create a safe and comfortable space for students with sensory issues who need to be in a controlled environment.
There will be nine classrooms, three sensory gyms and two specialty rooms on the second floor. The District 75 and general education students will share the school's cafeteria, library, gymnatorium and outdoor yard.
The 75 Morton Community Alliance and the Community Board 2 Schools and Education Committee are seeking funds from local officials for a $1 million green roof, and Councilman Corey Johnson secured funds for a community-based health center in the basement.
75 Morton is part of Manhattan's largest school district. District 2 runs from Battery Park up to 59th Street on the west side and 96th Street on the east side, with the Lower East Side carved out for District 1. It ranks second in average test scores out of all 32 school districts citywide.
Students in District 2 are 33 percent white, 28 percent Asian, 24 percent Hispanic, 11 percent black and 4 percent "other." Forty-four percent qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. English language learners make up 6 percent of the district's student population, and 18 percent of the students have an independent education plan tailored to help with learning disabilities.
There are 23 other middle schools is the district. Four schools have multiple admissions methods. Three have more than one academic program or track. Students apply to each one separately.
WHAT IS STILL BEING DECIDED?
Public middle schools throughout New York City have different admissions processes that determine how students are matched to different schools. The admissions process for 75 Morton will ultimately be decided by District 2 Superintendent Bonnie Laboy.
Laboy has encouraged community involvement with the school thus far and is convening a working group to discuss the admissions process and other decisions she will make about the school. The working group is expected to include members of the 75MCA, the District 2 Community Education Council and CB 2, as well as representatives for local elected officials.
Other schools in District 2 are:
► Zoned, meaning students living within an area are automatically admitted.
► Screened, meaning students are selected based on specific criteria set by the school's principal.
► Limited unscreened, meaning students are accepted through a lottery in which students have to rank their school choices, and preference is given to students who attend a tour, open house or middle school fair before applying.
Elsewhere in the city, there are schools where no preference is given for tours or fairs. And there are schools that use the "educational option," in which 50 percent of the student body is screened and 50 percent are admitted at random. This method is typically used to establish a diverse student body by admitting students with a variety of learning styles and abilities.
In focus groups and meetings surveys of involved local parents have shown a desire for diversity, both socioeconomic and in terms of learning styles and abilities.
The DOE wants to make 75 Morton a zoned school in order to provide for a large portion of the district — in Hell's Kitchen, Midtown South and upper Chelsea — that has gone without one for decades. The elementary schools in that area were once K through 8, but the middle school grades have since been phased out.
District 2 CEC President Shino Tanikawa said she was told the reason the schools were K through 8 was to keep the students in that area out of other middle schools because they were lower-income and non-white.
The DOE has proposed two scenarios. Both span the west side from 59th Street to Canal Street, but one also includes the west side below Canal Street.
The rezoning takes away from some of the zone for M.S. 104, also known as Baruch. The principal and faculty at Baruch are concerned the loss of applicants will prompt the DOE to decrease their funding and potentially let a charter school move into their building.
The DOE and district officials are taking public input on the proposal now, and the DOE aims to release a final proposal at a public meeting in late March or early April. The CEC will then have 45 days to vote on it.
Six out of the 10 CEC members must approve the proposed zone boundaries. If it doesn't get approval, it will not be a zoned school.
Families are not obligated to attend their zoned school, and in District 2 only about half the students at zoned schools like Baruch live within the zone. According to Tanikawa, about 80 percent of students in District 2 don't go to their zoned school.
SELECTING A PRINCIPAL
Organizers and Tanikawa have high hopes that Laboy, the superintendent, will consider input from the working group.
Back in November, Community Board 2's Schools and Education Committee, which has overlap with the 75 Morton Community Alliance, issued a resolution asking Laboy and the DOE to find, vet and select a principal before September 2016 so that she or he can be included in the middle school directory for September 2017.
THEME AND PHILOSOPHY
Any school theme — such as STEM or an arts-driven program— would be determined by Laboy, and the philosophy driving the school's approach to education will be determined by the school's principal.
Envisioning meetings have shown local parents would prefer the school not have a theme, and instead have a strong general studies curriculum so kids don't have to settle on a specialization as fifth graders.
Parents said they hope the principal will establish well-defined goals for students and facilitate academic exploration in a safe, free-to-fail environment.
UPCOMING MEETINGS AND WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
The 75 Morton Community Alliance is meeting Friday morning, March 11 at 9 a.m. in the Community Board 2 conference room at 3 Washington Square Village. The meeting is public.
The CB 2 schools committee will discuss green roofs and the 75 Morton zoning at their March 14 public meeting at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 41 at 116 W. 11th St. in the auditorium.
The last opportunity for public discussion of the zoning issue will be the D2 CEC's monthly meeting on March 15 at 6:30 at P.S. 234 at 292 Greenwich St. in TriBeCa. Input can also be emailed in to firstname.lastname@example.org.