BY SARA HENDRICKSON | The new 75 Morton St. middle school, currently known as M.S. 297, may be named the Jane Jacobs School if community momentum continues in a quest to honor the late great Greenwich Village activist, urban preservationist and author.
At a Schools and Education Committee meeting of Community Board 2 on March 8, Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, gave an animated presentation of Jane Jacobs’ life. But he lamented there was not a single park or square named after her, only one co-named block on Hudson St. between Perry and W. 11th Sts., where she used to live.
Jacobs’ David-versus-Goliath track record of wins during the 1950s and 1960s is folklore among Villagers. She blocked Robert Moses’ attempt to create a roadway through Washington Square Park, overturned a development project that would have razed a swath of West Village blocks, and stopped construction of the infamous crosstown Lower Manhattan Expressway.
Her most well-known book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” is the go-to handbook for urban planners, and her grassroots approach to organizing, as Berman put it, “formed the framework of the city’s community boards and other local decision-making bodies as we know them today.”
Jacobs extolled the reuse of city buildings. That’s an idea shared by the many community members whose 11 years of activism led to the transformation of 75 Morton St. — an aged state government-owned building — into a state-of-the-art middle school that has been so desperately needed.
“The community’s push for this school is the perfect embodiment of Jane Jacobs,” Berman concluded.
“I really hope the school can live up to her legacy,” added Michael Markowitz, a member of the C.B. 2 Schools and Education Committee.
Although there is plenty of precedent for named schools in New York City, the path to Department of Education approval is inevitably long and bureaucratic and requires persistence. Ultimately, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has the final say.
“We need to organize to make this happen,” said David Gruber, a former chairperson of C.B. 2.
After generating much excitement around a Jane Jacobs naming campaign, the meeting agenda shifted to funding for after-school programs at the new M.S. 297.
For this upcoming 2017-18 school year, M.S. 297’s inaugural class of sixth graders will be housed at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, at 10 E. 15th St. Although M.S. 297 was planned to open in its permanent home at 75 Morton St. this fall, unforeseen structural issues delayed the opening by one year.
Meanwhile, Clinton offers free after-school programs run by Manhattan Youth under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s SONYC (School’s Out New York City) initiative. These wide-ranging and popular programs are available every school day, Monday to Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and run the gamut from JV volleyball and comic book art, to debate and even a musical-theater production.
Theseus Roche and Rina Robinson of Manhattan Youth, gave a presentation at the March 8 meeting. They provided a brief history of the nonprofit organization’s founding Downtown in 1986, as the Financial District began transforming into residential neighborhoods teeming with young families.
“Nine-eleven was my first day on the job,” Roche recalled of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Manhattan Youth now serves 4,200 middle-school students through an array of programs in sports, performing and visual arts, literacy, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and basic homework help. The organization also operates programs on Pier 25, a recreational pier in the Tribeca section of Hudson River Park, and athletic leagues.
Other nonprofits running after-school SONYC programs at Community School District 2 middle schools include the Educational Alliance, Immigrant Social Services and University Settlement.
Manhattan Youth’s Robinson emphasized how critical after-school programs are for middle schoolers, who are “so vulnerable and often alone and unsupervised after school,” he noted.
Programs can be customized for each school.
“We always offer something a little quirky,” Roche added. “If kids know what they want, they can delve deeper. If not, they can explore.”
But Clinton’s after-school programs are already oversubscribed, so for M.S. 297 students to suit up for sports teams and participate in the many enrichment programs, additional funding will be needed.
The SONYC initiative originally received almost $250 million in city funding soon after Mayor de Blasio’s election, as one of his signature education policies along with universal prekindergarten.
The city’s Department of Youth and Community Development administers SONYC, and allocated funding through an R.F.P. (request for proposals) process for the 2015-16 school year, with an option to renew for two additional years.
For the 2017-18 school year, D.Y.C.D. funding is “flat-lined with no funding for new schools,” said Roche. So, M.S. 297 will need “stopgap” funding for its students to be added to Clinton’s after-school programs.
To ensure long-term funding in subsequent years, when the new cycle of funding for SONYC begins prior to the 2018-19 school year, an R.F.P. would have to be issued by D.Y.C.D. to fund M.S. 297 as a new school.
Roche and Jeannine Kiely, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Schools and Education Committee, walked through a back-of-the-envelope analysis of what this longer-term funding might add up to.
First, Roche explained, not all students attend the program every day for the entire 3 p.m.-to-6 p.m. time slot.
“Sixth graders tend to come every day, while eighth graders stay connected and attend a couple of times a week,” Roche noted. As a result, Manhattan Youth can typically run programs with D.Y.C.D. funding based on one-third of a school’s student population.
At a maximum student capacity of 900 students at M.S. 297 as defined under D.O.E.’s space-utilization algorithm (which C.B. 2, educators and parents say would crowd space at the school), one-third equates to 300 students. At the D.Y.C.D. funding rate of $3,000 per student, the 75 Morton St. school would need almost $1 million annually for its after-school programs in three years, at which time the new school will be serving grades 6 through 8.
“This is an annual amount,” Kiely explained, “that cannot be fully funded through discretionary funding, like M.S. 297 received for building a green roof — a one-time capital expense.”
Through a grant process from discretionary budgets of Councilmember Corey Johnson, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Borough President Gale Brewer, $500,000 was raised last year to create a green roof at M.S. 297 for hands-on gardening and science education.
At its March 23 full-board meeting C.B. 2 unanimously approved two resolutions. One urges D.O.E. to name M.S. 297 the Jane Jacobs School. The second urges the mayor and City Council to allocate funding for M.S. 297 after-school programs at Clinton next year and thereafter through a newly issued R.F.P.
The second resolution points out that nearly every middle school in School District 2 offers free after-school programs under SONYC, and that M.S. 297 “will compete for these students with the 23 other District 2 middle schools.”
“At the end of the day, this is an equity issue,” Kiely said. “This new middle school will serve a diverse group of students throughout District 2, and it needs to offer students — particularly those from working families — the same free after-school programs as other middle schools.”