75 Morton school buzz builds; Will co-locate first

Jacqui Getz, the principal of the new 75 Morton middle school, left, spoke to a group of parents after a “Meet the Principal” event on Nov. 15. Photo by Sara Hendrickson

Jacqui Getz, the principal of the new 75 Morton middle school, left, spoke to a group of parents after a “Meet the Principal” event on Nov. 15. Photo by Sara Hendrickson

BY SARA HENDRICKSON | At the final stop on a speaking tour to 10 elementary schools, Principal Jacqui Getz hosted her largest audience yet last week, sharing her vision for M.S. 297, the new middle school at 75 Morton St.

More than 200 parents and students from a cross section of elementary schools attended this “Meet the Principal” event on Nov. 15 at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, at 10 E. 15th St., near Union Square.

The location offered a sneak peek at what will be the temporary home for M.S. 297 for the 2017-18 school year. The Department of Education announced late last month that unforeseen construction issues would delay the opening of the 75 Morton St. building until fall 2018.

“When we started removing bricks, we found problems in the steel which raised serious safety concerns,” explained Jennifer Greenblatt, the Community School District 2 family leadership coordinator.

The Clinton School only recently moved to its new state-of-the-art building last year, as part of its expansion to add a high school to its long-sought middle school. Growing by one grade each year, Clinton currently has grades 6 through 10, so there is ample space for M.S. 297, which will have the seventh floor to itself.

“Clinton teachers will be colleagues, with a lot of sharing of best practices,” Getz said. “But we will have our own teachers and our own school philosophy.”

The seventh floor of 10 E. 15th St. includes four classrooms, an extra music/art room, an all-purpose room and easy access to the eighth-floor roof deck.

“We may never leave,” Getz joked.

To the many fifth graders in the audience, Getz assured, “We will hold as many of you as want to come.”

Greenblatt explained that with a maximum class size of 32 students and available classrooms at Clinton, M.S. 297 could enroll nearly 200 sixth graders this fall.

The huge 75 Morton St. facility was formerly occupied by a state government agency and is now being renovated to transform its interior into a school. It will have a capacity for 900 students, per D.O.E. guidelines.

“Even if we were in the 75 Morton building,” Getz said, “it is doubtful we’d start with 300 sixth graders.”

After a powerpoint slide presentation describing the M.S. 297 curriculum and electives, plus programs intended to foster socio-emotional development of the middle schoolers, Getz fielded questions.

“Now, students get to ask the first questions!” she said with a big smile.

“Will you specialize in one subject?” a fifth grader asked.

“No,” explained Getz, “because you need to be a strong reader and writer to be a strong scientist or mathematician, right?

“Will you have computers?” another asked.

“Computers will be in the classrooms, so we won’t need a computer lab and we’ll work hard on our coding,” she responded.

When a student asked what sports the school would have, Getz asked back, “What sports do you want?”

“Basketball and fencing,” he replied.

“I’ve been hearing about fencing, so I’m talking to someone next week about that and soccer, too,” said Getz encouragingly. “And don’t forget, we have a bike room and we’ll be right off the bike path,” she added.

When parents had their turn, questions centered on how to educate a range of students since M.S. 297 will not have a separate Special Progress, or SP, accelerated track, such as the Wagner and Baruch middle schools offer.

“It’s similar to elementary school, with a diversity of thinkers learning together,” Getz explained. “The curriculum has many avenues and teachers know how to adapt to diverse learners. I have seen it and lived in it — it will look busy!”

As principal of the Lower East Side’s P.S. 126 / Manhattan Academy of Technology, Getz was highly regarded for implementing an inquiry- and project-based curriculum and hiring teachers talented at supporting and challenging students across a spectrum of abilities.

There will be Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classrooms at M.S. 297 where a second special-education teacher will team-teach, so that the general-education curriculum can be taught to all students. Math honors will likely be offered, but without an honors track. All eighth graders will take the Regents Exams in math and science.

One parent worried about not having seventh and eighth graders to “mentor” the first sixth graders.

“That will be missing,” Getz acknowledged. “But it will be a wonderful, intimate environment, and there is something special about sixth graders being leaders from the get-go. They can even pick the school’s colors and mascot and paint them on the gym floor!”

Some parents stayed after the Q&A to dive into details on admissions from D.O.E. Enrollment Director Sara McPhee, with the Dec. 1 application deadline fast approaching.

Zoned students are automatically admitted (unscreened) to the school, while unzoned students will be evaluated (screened) based on grades, state test scores, attendance and other criteria. Getz has been reassuring families that for the first year the screen will be “very light.” Unlike many District 2 middle schools, M.S. 297 will not consider where students rank the school on their application.

The ranking system has made a complex application process even more nerve-racking for families. After submitting a Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, request to D.O.E., the Community Education Council District 2 recently received data on admissions policies for District 2 middle schools, revealing what families long thought to be the case. Namely, East Side Middle, Salk, Lab and Clinton will not consider students who have not ranked the school as their No. 1 choice; and several other middle schools require at least a No. 1 or No. 2 ranking or assign more points for a top ranking.

C.E.C. 2 is pushing D.O.E. for reforms, including publicizing school admissions policies and considering whether schools should be prohibited from seeing an applicant’s ranking of schools.

Some parents thought the incubation period at Clinton was an advantage. Ned Elton, parent of a fifth grade-daughter and active member of the 75 Morton Community Alliance, shared that view.

“There should be plenty of after-school programs without needing a larger critical mass of students,” he said. “Just think of all the things that will be in place when the doors open for Year Two.”

With excitement spreading about M.S. 297, Elton, who lives one block outside the M.S. 297 zone, wondered if other unzoned families might worry that seats would go fast to zoned students with priority.

“I have a feeling, by this time next year, a lot of families will rank 75 Morton No. 1,” he predicted.

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