Teachers, teams, tweens: Buzz builds for 75 Morton

Jacqui Getz, the principal for the new 75 Morton school (M.S. 297), brings 30 years of experience in education. By Sara Hendrickson
Jacqui Getz, the principal for the new 75 Morton school (M.S. 297), brings 30 years of experience in education. Photo by Sara Hendrickson

BY SARA HENDRICKSON | At the middle school fair last month, the 75 Morton school table was bustling with parents and fifth graders eager to meet the new principal, Jacqui Getz, and get an inside look at this highly anticipated new middle school in Greenwich Village, opening in fall 2017.

M.S. 297 (75 Morton) is a new school, but Getz is anything but a newbie. Her 30 years of experience in New York City schools spans the gamut: teacher, literacy expert, assistant principal and most recently principal of P.S. 126 / MAT, a pre-K-to-eighth-grade Chinatown school with a wide range of family ethnicities and income levels. Getz is highly regarded for creating that school’s inquiry-based instruction, strengthening parent involvement and instilling teacher collaboration.

Getz was even profiled five years ago in a New York Times article, “The Secrets of a Principal Who Makes Things Work,” that highlighted her talent in hiring inspirational teachers and chatting it up with students during lunch in the cafeteria.

“My principal says great things about her,” commented several parents mingling near the 75 Morton table at the middle school fair.

P.S. 234 fifth grader Sara Khana admired poster boards with renderings of 75 Morton’s gleaming cafeteria and cozy library.

“I would love to go to a new school, it doesn’t scare me at all!” she pronounced to her mother, Samjhana.

Sixth graders starting at 75 Morton next fall will be the pioneer class, as one successive grade will be added each year. Getz sees them as young founders with shared responsibility and pride.

“The opportunity to start a school from scratch was too hard to turn down,” Getz said. “75 Morton is challenging and exciting.”

Getz leaned down eye-to-eye with a group of fifth-grade boys.

“Won’t it be great to pick out the school’s mascot and colors?” she smiled. “The first thing you’ll do is come up with our school’s traditions, then we’ll get to work!”

The educational philosophy at 75 Morton will be grounded in collaborative, project- and inquiry-based instruction, the approach Getz used at P.S. 126 / MAT.

“Teachers will be trained at a Socratic seminar,” explained Getz at a presentation to parents a few days after the middle school fair, at P.S. 89, down in Battery Park City, the first stop on a roadshow to a dozen elementary schools.

For parents who wanted to drill down on pedagogy, Getz’s powerpoint slides included a listing of resources that will be used in the 75 Morton curriculum: Teacher’s College for reading and writing, for science SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Project), and for math CMP3 (Connected Mathematics Project). Social studies will be project-based and use the city’s neighborhoods as classrooms.

In contrast to Baruch and Wagner, the other large zoned District 2 middle schools, 75 Morton will not offer a separate accelerated academic track called Special Progress, or SP.

“SP is not part of the community’s vision for the school,” said Getz, referring to the consensus gathered from envisioning meetings organized by the 75 Morton Community Alliance. Getz doesn’t rule out offering honors classes.

“Maybe math,” she said, “but there would have to be a needs assessment first, and there will not be an honors track.”

The spacious seven-story building at 75 Morton St. has state-of-the-art facilities: science labs, art studios, music rooms, a dance studio, library, cafeteria, fitness room, occupational therapy room, outdoor yard space, and a regulation-sized gym with bleachers that converts to a 500-seat theater.

The school received a $500,000 grant from the budgets of local politicians to build a green roof for hands-on learning in science and other subjects. A student health center on the basement level will offer primary care, dental, vision and mental health services, especially for preadolescents. One aspect of the architectural design the community advocated for and won was enlargement of the windows to bring in plenty of natural light throughout the building.

For students with learning needs requiring an individualized education program (I.E.P.), 75 Morton will have Integrated Co-Teaching (I.C.T.) classrooms, where two teachers, including one special education teacher, work as a team, so that the entire class has access to the “general ed” curriculum. This proven model ensures “special ed” kids are not isolated and all students can learn from one another.

“We will meet the needs of all the kids,” Getz assured.

Housed within the 75 Morton school will be a District 75 school on the second floor for 60 to 100 students with special learning needs across the autism spectrum. Getz hopes to collaborate with the D75 principal, who has not yet been hired, on social and community-building activities between the two schools.

Beyond Getz’s credentials to create a transformational middle school, her genuine affinity for the “tween” early adolescent age group is palpable.

“It’s middle school — the socio-emotional piece is very hard,” Getz said. “Guidance is one of my most important priorities.”

Foreign language won’t start until the seventh grade (“probably Spanish,” she noted) to give sixth graders more time for advisories and electives to empower them to create their own student-centered community.

One fifth-grade boy at the fair asked if there would be a tennis team.

“Yes, if you can get enough players for the team, then absolutely!” Getz encouraged. She championed the sports program at P.S. 126 / MAT where there were 50 teams and more than 20 different sports. Students were never cut from teams since there was a range of levels for broad participation. Students at 75 Morton will have easy access to the Pier 40 athletic fields just three blocks away.

Performing and visual arts will also be a focal point of 75 Morton, and instrumental music programs will be offered. Getz, known for partnering with city groups to enrich curriculum, is excited about the array of cultural organizations close to 75 Morton, like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Children’s Museum of the Arts.

After-school programs will be available, some free, though some on a fee-basis since the city’s five-year grant for free after-school programs for middle schools is expiring this year. Getz is exploring programs with Manhattan Youth, the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center and the Steady Buckets basketball program.

“Of course, there will always be after-school homework help,” Getz told parents, “and you’ll often see me there.”

There are two admissions methods for 75 Morton: a zoned program for students living in the school’s zone, and a screened program for students outside the zone. Zoned students do not have to submit academic or other information and are automatically admitted. Given the school’s capacity, set by the city’s Department of Education at 900 students, or 300 per grade, the zone for 75 Morton is large. It encompasses diverse neighborhoods, from Hell’s Kitchen in the north and running down the West Side through Chelsea, the West Village, Soho, Tribeca, Battery Park and the Financial District.

For unzoned students applying through the screened program, students will be evaluated based on their fourth-grade report card, state test scores and information on attendance and behavior. Getz emphasized that the screen will be “very light this year” and that students will not be evaluated based on how they rank 75 Morton on their application. Some selective middle schools in District 2, such as Salk and Lab, will not consider students who don’t rank the school as their No. 1 choice. This hotly disputed ranking system is currently under scrutiny by Community Education Council District 2 since it creates a stressful “game the system” atmosphere.

For both zoned and unzoned students applying to 75 Morton, Getz reminded parents of D.O.E.’s matching system.

“You will only be matched to 75 Morton if you are not matched to the schools you rank before it,” she explained. “So, if you want 75 Morton, put us down as No. 1!” Up to 12 middle schools can be ranked by students on their applications, which are due Dec. 1.

At the close of her presentation at P.S. 89, Getz gathered index cards from parents with their handwritten questions for follow-up.

“I am the only person answering the 75 Morton Gmail right now,” she laughed. “And by the way, I’ll be back again to meet the kids.”

Decisions on the school’s programming will continue as a collaborative effort among Getz and D.O.E.’s 75 Morton working group that has broad representation of educators and community members.

“This group of families is very inspiring and great to work with,” Getz said. “I am keeping as close as possible to their vision of creating a diverse and inclusive school.”

There are a range of upcoming 75 Morton school events and resources. Oct. 17 is “Meet the Principal Night,” at 6:30 p.m., at The New School’s Johnson Hall Auditorium, at 66 W. 12th St., between Fifth and Sixth Aves.

There will be ongoing presentations by Principal Getz for parents at local elementary schools: Oct. 17 — P.S. 150; Oct. 18 — P.S. 234; Oct. 19 — P.S. 111; Oct. 26 — P.S. 41; Oct. 27 — P.S. 3; and Oct. 28 — P.S. 11. Contact schools for times.

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