A new middle school opens in DUMBO

Dock Street School for STEAM Studies provides 330 new seats

September 7, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, center, cuts the ribbon at the new Dock Street School for STEAM Studies in DUMBO. From left: Councilmember Stephen Levin, Finn McArdle, Chancellor Fariña, Assana Islam, Risha Harata, Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose, Dr. Melissa Vaughan, principal; and District 13 Superintendent Barbara Freeman. Photos by Mary Frost
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New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña cut the ribbon at the new Dock Street School for STEAM Studies in DUMBO on Tuesday.

Housed in one floor of a sparkling new building at the corner of Dock and Water streets, the Dock Street School will serve 330 students in the 6th through 8th grades from across Brooklyn’s District 13.

The new school will welcome students on Thursday to the most modern public middle school in the borough, with a science lab, a “gymatorium,” classrooms with modular desks and a music suite with classroom space and separate practice rooms.

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Incoming students Risha Harata, Finn McArdle and Assana Islam explained why they decided they wanted to attend the new school.

“I came here because I saw that there’s a lot of outdoor experiments and we could actually do fun things,” Risha told the Brooklyn Eagle. She added, “It has a big gymatorium, and I like it.”

Finn said he wanted to come “because of the partnership with St. Ann’s Warehouse, and the brand new facilities and the lunchroom and stuff. And the teachers.”

Assana, who enjoys math, said she was attracted to the school “because they have STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and math] studies, and I’m really into STEAM studies.”

“When we say STEAM, we’re talking about full science labs, we’re talking about an inquiry based curriculum, where students will become high school and college ready,” Fariña told a crowd of educators, officials and reporters on Tuesday. “With four pre-K sites in the same building, the students at the Dock Street School will be mentors to the four-year-olds,” she added.

The school’s principal, Dr. Melissa Vaughan, told the crowd, “This continues to be an amazing journey for me.”

Unusually collaborative process

The new school (formerly called Satellite West Middle School when it was co-located with P.S. 307 in Vinegar Hill) came about after negotiations with the building’s developer, Two Trees Management, during the ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) process, and involved an unusual amount of collaboration with the community.

Fariña said that the partnership between Two Trees’ Walentas family, the district’s Community Education Council (CEC), the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education was unique.

“It’s a partnership I want to see replicated everywhere,” she said. “A new school is an investment in the community, and DUMBO is a growing community. I think this stabilizes the community as a place where families have a lot of options.”

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Two Trees’ Jed Walentas said that the school is “a model that shows how the city can leverage real estate values to create public benefits.”

The idea for building a school in the residential development was actually former Councilmember Ken Fisher’s, Walentas said.

“When we were struggling with politics, he said, ‘I’ve got a solution for you — put a school in here.’ And he was right.”

“I don’t want this to be the end of our involvement in schools,” Walentas added. “I think this can be a model for when schools get built, not just when there’s an acrimonious process and you have to go through a land use change.”

Walentas received enthusiastic applause when he said, “Hopefully this building will demonstrate that you should make part of the zoning code for all sites that get built in the city, you can get a school or some type of public facility” built as part of the development.

“We’ve done some work in our office to perpetuate that model,” he said. I do think there’s an opportunity here to demonstrate how projects like this can become a win for everybody.”

Walentas also praised Public Advocate Letitia James, calling her “an incredible advocate” for the school.

Two Trees Management’s Jed Walentas.

David Goldsmith, president of District 13’s Community Education Council, told the Eagle that the collaborative process was “a new way of operating that is very enlightening. You look at what’s going to happen in this building — the partnerships with the park and with the Navy Yard and St. Ann’s Warehouse. This is what happens when we collaborate and do great work together.”

He added, “There are a lot of people who have learned that this is the way to plan for schools. We’re going to try to replicate this process in a lot of the big decisions we make.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer told the Eagle that the park met with Principal Vaughan last week to discuss working together on projects. “There’s so much that can happen with having a middle school right across the street from the park. We’re just thrilled.”

Councilmember Stephen Levin applauded Fariña for bringing the community into the planning process, and District 13’s CEC for “working together and taking on challenges head on in a way that is smart and collaborative.”

He also praised the SCA (School Construction Authority), headed by Lorraine Grillo.

“The SCA really does the best job. When you walk around and look at this facility, you see a world class school,” he said.

Walking the halls

Science teacher Kassidy Loy shows off the science lab’s fume hood.Sixth-grade science teacher Kassidy Loy led reporters through a tour of the school, which includes classrooms equipped with touch screen Smart Boards and modular desks. The art room has sinks and even a kiln for ceramics. An inviting library, lit by north light, is stocked with books.

The school includes a classroom for students with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) under teacher Sarah Goldstein, and a state-of-the-art science lab equipped with a grow lab and a fume hood for doing work with malodorous chemicals. The science department is partnered with Urban Advantage, a program affiliated with all the science institutions in New York City, such as the Natural History Museum.

Loy said she did not expect to have so a well-equipped lab.

“I’ve not worked in a school that has one, so it’s really exciting,” she said.

Music teacher Antoine Dolberry said students would be learning chorus, a bit of percussion, and hopefully some guitar by the end of the year.

“With the practice rooms, we can have three classes going on at the same time,” he said.

“It’s going to be fun.”

Andrew Ravin, sixth grade English teacher, said that middle school was the age “when a lot of the engagement goes down. Our goal is to not have that happen. Where there is active learning in science or English, we try to keep that magic up and keep them interested.”

 One of many gleaming classrooms at the new school.

A classroom for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Eight high-functioning autistic students per grade will phase into the school.

The library at the new Dock Street School.

Middle school students will eat lunch in this cafeteria starting Thursday.

District 13 leaders - Zina Cooper-Williams, Principal Leadership Facilitator; Precious Jones Walker, Family Leadership Coordinator; Marian Burnbaum, Teacher Development & Evaluation Coach; Barbara Lewis, Dir. of School Renewal, Stephanie Seaton, Dir. of Early Childhood and Barbara Freeman, Superintendent. Photos by Mary Frost

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