Junior high and dry! Parents: Where’s our new Dumbo middle-school?

TOMORROW: Learn more about the MS 313 relocation
Photo by Louise Wateridge

The city hoodwinked families in neighborhoods between Brooklyn Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant by suggesting it would create a new middle school for their kids in Dumbo, then instead deciding to relocate an existing middle school to a new building at the last minute, say local parents.

“We’ve got parents in Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill saying we thought we were going to get a new school,” said Rob Underwood, a Park Slope parent of two who also serves on the area’s community education council, at a town-hall meeting on the city’s plan to relocate MS 313 in Vinegar Hill on Tuesday night. “And there ain’t no new school!”

Parents in District 13 — which also encompasses Downtown, Fort Greene, and parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Park Slope — say they had long expected the city to create a brand-new intermediate school at a purpose-built middle-school space in a new high-rise at Water and Dock streets in Dumbo that has been in the works since 2007 (read more about that here).

But in late September, the Department of Education abruptly announced it instead intends to use the Dumbo facility as a new home for MS 313 next year — in part to free up seats for its controversial plan to expand the boundaries of the neighborhood’s elementary school PS 307, where MS 313 is currently co-located.

The department had never explicitly outlined its plans for the middle-school space until now, but Underwood says it had indicated to the community education panel that it would create a new institution dubbed IS 611 there, and some residents say there was a widespread understanding that a new school was in the works.

“We’ve all known about this new school for years, what happened?” said one Vinegar Hill father, who declined to give his name, but said he didn’t want to send his offspring to MS 313, which the city recently designated “persistently dangerous” due to reports of violent behavior. “Was this some secret nobody told me about?”

Some area parents welcome the about-face, arguing there are already plenty of empty middle-school seats in District 13 — MS 313 currently has around 10 kids but room for around 300 — and it makes more sense to improve the existing schools that are struggling to attract students than to build new ones that would lure away even more prospective pupils.

“We didn’t want another number — move an existing middle school to Dock Street and grow it,” said David Goldsmith, president of District 13’s community education council.

But Underwood claims there is an urgent dearth of quality, dedicated middle-school seats aimed at brainy tweens in District 13. Two of the most popular intermediate schools in the area — MS 8 in Brooklyn Heights and the Academy of Arts and Letters in Fort Greene — are attached to elementary schools whose students get first dibs on seats, making them “statistically harder to get into than Harvard,” he claims.

A new school in the Dumbo space — which would not have been bound to any elementary institution — would have been equally accessible to all kids in the district, he said.

Of course, the spare seats at MS 313 are also open to all. The new Dumbo facility will include specialized music rooms and science labs, and the department is promising to create a “working group” of officials and faculty members to “redesign” the re-sited school in an effort to attract more students.

But ultimately, the institution’s existing principal doesn’t have to adopt any of the recommended changes, said Underwood. And parents on all sides of the debate agree the department’s plans for the relocated school are woefully vague given parents of fifth-graders are already enrolling their kids in middle schools for 2016.

“313 is already on the choice directory now, and a lot of the details in this proposal are still very unclear,” said Maggie Spillane, another community education council member, whose offspring attend PS 9 in Prospect Heights.

The move is still not set in stone. The city-appointed Panel for Education Policy will vote on the proposal on Nov. 19, and will host a public hearing on the relocation at PS 307 on Nov. 2.

MS 313 relocation hearing at PS 307 [209 York St, between Gold Street and Hudson Avenue in Vinegar Hill). Nov. 2 at 6 pm. Speaker sign-up will begin 30 minutes before the hearing and will close 15 minutes before the start.

Reach reporter Harry MacCormack at hmaccormack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @HMacBKPaper.