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Parents meet principal of M.S. 177, opening this fall

Parents crammed into the auditorium of a school on the Upper East Side to meet the principal of a new middle school that's slated to open in the same building next year.

M.S. 177 will enroll about 80 sixth-grade students for the 2014-15 school year. Full implementation is slated for the 2016-17 school year, by which time the school will serve 255-300 students in grades 6 through 8.

The existing school, P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor, is a kindergarten through fifth-grade elementary school with about 775 students, located at York Avenue and 77th Street.

Parents at the packed meeting - many of whom had kids enrolled in Bayard Taylor - were mostly concerned about the enrollment process for M.S. 177, though some were also concerned about how the two schools would co-exist in the same building.

Fifty-percent of students enrolled next year at M.S. 177 will be screened by the new principal and other administrators, and will most likely be accepted based on high test scores and other achievements. The other half will be drawn from a District 2 lottery of applicants who expressed interest in the school by attending an information session.

District 2 Superintendent Mariano Guzman said applicants can apply to M.S. 177 through the screened process, unscreened process (lottery), or both, and that applications to the new middle school won't affect those made to other District 2 middle schools. However, he stressed that in the years ahead, applying to M.S. 177 could affect applications to other schools as the new middle school is integrated into the overall process.

Christina Riggio, the principal of the new school, was on hand to introduce herself and answer parents' questions about M.S. 177. She said M.S. 177 will be hiring six teachers to teach three classes. Class size will be in the high 20s.

With only 80 seats up for grabs, in a middle-school-hungry district, parents were at the meeting to learn about the enrollment process in the hopes that their graduating fifth-grader would land one of the spots.

Still, some Bayard Taylor parents, like Abhinav Chandra, are fearful that adding hundreds of more students to the school will strain the building's resources and space.

"There are programs at [Bayard Taylor] right now that are not compensated programs, they're there just because the space is there, so are they going to be cut? Gym? Is that going to be cut?" said Chandra.

Another parent asked Riggio how students who were selected for M.S. 177 under the lottery process would receive extra help if they fall behind, as both screened and unscreened students will share the same classrooms. Riggio said the administration is prepared to enrich or collapse the curriculum for higher-achieving students, while slowing it down for students who are struggling.

"The other thing we're considering is having a coach so that we have a second body in the room to push in for those students who may need it," said Riggio. "In the beginning of the year we're going to take great strides in getting to know your students."

A language course will not be offered for sixth-graders next year, Rizzio said, and interest in music, arts and language will most likely be addressed by way of lunch clubs and after school programs. Guzman cited another District 2 school with a high Asian population that has a Mandarin lunch club.

Riggio said several logistical points were still to be decided, such as what time M.S. 177 will start and end and whether students will be able to leave school premises during lunch. The new middle school will occupy the fifth floor of the school building, which will undergo construction this summer.

Riggio taught social studies at a public middle school in the Bronx for six years and was involved in Teach For America. She was also a lead teacher at the DOE, mentoring other teachers, and an achievement coach. Riggio holds a masters in elementary education and teaching from Pace University and a masters in school building leadership from Columbia.

"I love middle school," she said. "It's a transitional time in kids' lives. With change comes an opportunity to expand their interests and their love of learning."

For more information, call the District 2 office at 212-356-3815. Contact Christina Riggio at

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