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Middle School Lauded for Autism Program Moves to Windsor Terrace

 M.S. 442 has moved from the border of Carroll Gardens and Gowanus to the old Bishop Ford High School building in Windsor Terrace.
M.S. 442 has moved from the border of Carroll Gardens and Gowanus to the old Bishop Ford High School building in Windsor Terrace.
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DNAinfo/Caroline Spivack

WINDSOR TERRACE — After a contentious relocation process, a Carroll Gardens middle school has moved to a former Catholic school building in Windsor Terrace where it will share the space with a pre-K and charter starting Thursday.

M.S. 442 Carroll Gardens School for Innovation was previously nestled on the Gowanus and Carroll Gardens border at 317 Hoyt St. where it was co-located with P.S. 32, but plans for a building addition forced the middle school out.

Along with M.S. 442's reputation as a melting pot, it's home to a much-lauded program that places children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in small-sized classrooms co-taught with general education students

Now educators are tussling with the task of ensuring the school maintains the diversity and inclusion it's known for, the school's principal said Wednesday.

"It's important to us that we keep our diversity and don't have a concentration of students from one area," said Noreen Mills, who has been the principal since 2015 and has worked at the school since its inception 18 years ago. "And to do that we definitely have to actively reach out. It's a matter of us going to the students instead of them coming to us." 

M.S. 442's parent coordinator in past years visited schools in Red Hook and Sunset Park to encourage pupils to apply to the middle school, and aims to widen that practice to schools in nearby Kensington. 

IMAGE M.S. 442

Teachers put the last touches on their classrooms before the start of school year. (DNAinfo/Caroline Spivack)

The school had seen dwindling enrollment numbers after the Department of Education failed to immediately provide a relocation plan, leaving parents to guess which neighborhood their children would be traveling to if they enrolled.

But the move to the old Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School building at 500 19th St. triggered a surge of interest, according to Mills, with enrollment up from 197 students at the start of the 2016-2017 school year to 242 entering this year — a 23 percent jump.

The spike has stoked fears that the school may have difficulty attracting students from a broad section of school District 15, which spans Cobble Hill to Sunset Park, said one parent. 

"The school has been a hidden gem for the last few years," said Megan Nyhan, the president of the school's Parent Teacher Association and the co-chair of the Parent Action Committee. "So now it's, 'How do we continue to reach the families and students who are best served by the unique program?' That's the bigger issue."

IMAGE M.S. 442

Administrators and teachers unpack, with the added challenge of the move, as they gear up for the new school year. (DNAinfo/Caroline Spivack)

The Department of Education is renting school space from the Diocese of Brooklyn at the Windsor Terrace building, which also houses the Brooklyn Urban Garden Charter School (BUG) and pre-K 280 for a total of roughly 1,000 students at the site.

Administrators from each school regularly meet to coordinate their schedules for common areas, with M.S. 442 occupying parts of the second and third floor, BUG charter filling out sections of the third and fourth levels and pre-K 280 taking up the first story. 

Even with the trio of schools, there is still room for M.S. 442 to grow in the spacious structure down the road, making it all the more important that the middle school is working to draw in students from across the district, said Mills.

"Our efforts have to be more aggressive now if we're going to continue to truly be an ... inclusive school," said Mills. "I'm happy with where we ended up, but it's a give and take. There's work to be done."