By Lucy Stone
As the New York City public school academic year winds down and students eagerly await summer vacation, there is one middle school that will spend the next few months gearing up for its long-awaited opening. Co-located in a former state-owned building at 75 Morton Street, the new special-education middle school, P751 and zoned District Two intermediary school MS297, are set to open in the fall of 2018.
More than ten years ago, with district classrooms becoming overcrowded, local Village parents felt a pressing need for a school that served the neighborhood. In 2009, parent advocates, aware of the building at 75 Morton Street, banded together with PTAs of various schools and Community Education Council District 2 (CEDC2) to begin the process of lobbying the city to purchase the building with the purpose of turning it into a school.
But the city did not bid on the property right away. “We just didn’t give up; we kept bringing up 75 Morton every chance we got,” said Shino Tanikawa, CECD2 president. “It looked like nothing was going to happen but we just wouldn’t let it go.”
Not letting go is an apt description; what followed was a roller coaster ride. After much back and forth, the Department Of Education (DOE) announced in March 2012 that they would purchase the building. But by that September no action had been taken. In response, Community Board 2 joined CECD2 to form a task force chaired by Keen Berger. The process was a long one with many obstacles and emotional ups and downs. At one point, the state actually withdrew the proposal to sell. But the members of the community assembled to bring stake holders together. “It was really a small group of community activists who worked levels of power,” said Matthew Horovitz, former member of the CECD2 and founding member of the 75 Morton Community Alliance. Volunteers like Horovitz hosted community meetings, thousands of parents signed petitions, families sent postcards and two rallies were held. With the key help of Assembly Member Deborah Glick, the state agreed to sell the building and Speaker Christine Quinn got the city to purchase it. The deal ultimately closed in March of 2014.
Throughout this impressive display of determination, it was stressed that the community ought to be the driving force in producing a vision for the school as opposed to leaving it in the hands of the School Construction Authority or the DOE alone. “Just Imagine,” a rally slogan that surfaced in the early advocacy period for new schools, is a reminder of the incredible possibilities a school can hold in the hands of the community.
Now that 75 Morton has become a reality, the imagining is over. With construction not yet complete in time for the 2017-18 academic year, the school spent its first year on the 7th floor of the new Clinton School on West 15th Street. But with construction finally coming to a close at Morton, teachers, administrators, parents, and most of all students, are looking forward to finally making the move to their hard-won permanent facility in September. “It’s cool that we’re the very first class because it changes the way we’ll see the school,” says Eden Alson, a Greenwich Village local and current sixth grader at the school. “It’s not just going to be our middle school, it’s going to be our middle school.” Her dad, Peter Alson, is excited for Eden and her peers in the inaugural class, adding that “They’re the pioneers, the leaders of the school. They’re going to forge the way.”
A quick check of the school’s website (ms297.org) lists some important dates for the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year: the first PTA meeting, curriculum night with a chance for parents to meet teachers, and the first School Leadership Team meeting. All of these events will have special importance at 75 Morton as the school pursues its mission “to empower every student to inquire, question, create and evolve” and begins the process of integrating into the very community that helped it come to life.
Lucy Stone lives in Greenwich Village and will be a senior at Hunter College High School in the fall. Had it existed in her time, 75 Morton would have been her zoned middle school.