Chancellor rocks Brooklyn Chamber event with the news
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced on Thursday that a large capacity, district-level middle school is headed to Prospect Heights.
The news thrilled parents who have been working for more than a year to convince the city’s Department of Education (DOE) that a stand-alone middle school (grades 6 to 8) is needed. The school will be built at a site in the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park complex formerly called B15, now known as 664 Pacific. The city originally intended to house both an elementary school and a smaller middle school there.
The dedicated middle school will be a first for the district, which has several smaller middle schools but nothing on this scale.
When Atlantic Yards was approved in 2006, part of the project’s agreements called for the developer to provide a 600-seat public school facility in one of the buildings in the project.
Fariña casually dropped the announcement following her headliner at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce’s Newsmaker event – which never fails to make news, said Chamber President and CEO Carlo Scissura.
Gib Veconi, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, had been lobbying Fariña for a middle school during the event’s Q & A session.
“District 13 lacks a large-capacity stand-alone middle school,” he told her. “Every local elected official representing District 13, from the Borough President through the City Council members, the Community Board and CEC13 have all called for that school to be a dedicated middle school.”
“And it will be!” Fariña said.
After a moment of stunned silence, loud applause broke out.
Fariña said the decision had been made after discussions with District 13 Superintendent Barbara Freeman, local schools and parents.
“I thought we put it out there but if not… we just did,” she said.
She reminded the audience that Dock Street in DUMBO would also be getting a middle school. “In District 13 in particular, it’s a matter of looking at all your resources.”
The Dock Street project will house an expanded and repurposed Satellite West Middle School, currently located on in the P.S. 307 building in Vinegar Hill. P.S. 307 was recently rezoned to accommodate elementary school children from DUMBO, who formerly were zoned for overcrowded P.S. 8.
The DUMBO school will be called the Dock Street School for STEAM Studies. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.
DOE Deputy Press Secretary Toya Holness added more details about the Atlantic Yards school decision after the Chamber event.
“As a result of continued dialogue with the superintendent and community, we are pleased to announce that this project is moving forward as a middle school,” Holness said. “The new school will directly address needs voiced by the community and there will be ongoing opportunities for public discourse as we move forward with plans.”
She added, “We are continuing to work closely with the developer to ensure the project meets cost parameters.”
664 Pacific’s design includes a 26-story residential building with the school occupying several floors starting at ground level. The school’s dedicated entrance will be on Sixth Avenue between Pacific and Dean streets, according to DNAinfo.
“Greenland Forest City Partners looks forward to delivering a new state-of-the-art public middle school in the heart of Pacific Park. This 600-seat school will be a tremendous community anchor for the thousands of families living in Pacific Park and their neighbors from across District 13,” Ashley Cotton, senior vice president of External Affairs at Forest City Ratner Cos., said in a statement on behalf of GFCP on Thursday.
Brooklyn’s District 13 covers Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene, Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill and north Park Slope.
Parents and officials have dubbed their vision for the new middle school “M.S. OneBrooklyn.” Their ideas, which include a curriculum emphasizing arts, STEM and dual language studies, received support from officials including Borough President Eric Adams and state Senator Velmanette Montgomery.
“We lose families when their children get to be in fourth grade, fifth grade, because they don’t perceive a middle school option,” Veconi told the Brooklyn Eagle.
“Here we have an opportunity to build a middle school that has the kinds of lab facilities, PE, performance [space], and other things that are really specific to the needs of middle school students -- and it’s an opportunity that we’re delighted to hear the Chancellor announce,” he said.
Following the meeting, M.S. OneBrooklyn organizers said in a statement, "On behalf of the more than 1,000 people who have signed the M.S. OneBrooklyn petition, we are delighted that the Chancellor has committed that the Atlantic Yards facility will be a dedicated middle school. We look forward to working with the Department of Education to leverage the arts and tech resources of Brooklyn, and incorporate dual-language curricula at this new school.”
“The residents of Prospect Heights have been heard, and our children will benefit from their advocacy in the form of a brand-new middle school that furthers their academic journeys," BP Adams said in a statement. "I am proud of the M.S. OneBrooklyn campaign and thankful that Chancellor Fariña has responded favorably to our call for dedicated middle school space in Pacific Park."
Sharon Wedderburn, chair of the Education Committee of Community Board 8, said in a statement that CB8 sees this school "as a first step in addressing the existing and emerging needs of traditional middle schools in Community District 8."
Scissura said the Chamber’s Newsmaker event brings together “thought leaders” with the business community.
He noted his long collaboration with Fariña in their public careers over the years, and declared himself to be one of her biggest fans.
"Chancellor Fariña's exceptional career in the DOE has positively impacted millions of students citywide," he said.
In her presentation, Fariña touted the city’s success in building its universal pre-K program, said the city was pushing forward with its literacy and dual language programs, and asked Chamber members to get involved by personally visiting schools, mentoring and creating apprenticeships and internships.
"I urge everyone to make a commitment, small or large, and become involved in their local public school,” she said. “An extra human being in a school can make a major difference in the life of a child.”
She added that the city needs more pre-K and high school buildings.
“You in the development field, keep us in mind,” she said.
Tucker Reed, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, said, "With Downtown Brooklyn's residential population nearly quadrupling in size over the last fifteen years, school overcrowding is a major issue facing the area. We're looking forward to a thoughtful discussion with the Chancellor about how we can work together to alleviate that issue in the coming years as even more residents pour into the neighborhood."
The event was held at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering at MetroTech and sponsored by Investors Bank. Other participants included Chamber Chair Denise Arbesu, Investors Bank VP Jennifer Smith and Sayar Lonial, director of Marketing and Communications at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.
Updated 5:20 p.m. with a statement from Greenland Forest City Partners.
Updated 1/29/16 with statements fromelected officials.