Typically ribbons are cut on new organizations or new buildings before the first occupants set foot in the door, or at least shortly afterward.
But MS 297, the Hawtree Creek Middle School, did things a little differently.
The school opened last September, co-located at MS 226’s building at 121-10 Rockaway Blvd. with that school and PS 233, a District 75 school.
Occupying one end of a hallway in the massive building, MS 297 — currently serving 95 sixth-graders with a principal, seven full-time teachers and a part-time secretary — barely had the equipment it needed nine months ago.
Now it’s thriving.
And that makes now the perfect time for a ribbon cutting, the staff says.
“Last August we had only desks, chairs and curriculum,” said founding teacher Alex Parker at last Thursday night’s official opening celebration. “Now we have personality and community.”
Students told the history of the school at the event, from Ms 297 Principal Maureen Hussey’s decision to start it, to the picking of it’s name, Hawtree Creek, a tributary of Jamaica Bay that separates Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach more than a mile to the south, but at one time traveled as far north as South Ozone Park.
A legend inside the school is that the building sits on top of the creek bed.
The celebration seemed far removed from the contentious public hearings in the same auditorium that preceded its existence.
The co-location of MS 297 was not without controversy. MS 226 had bad experiences with co-locations before, and when the city Department of Education approved the new school for the site in March 2013, concerns over rivalries leading to fights, overcrowded rooms and negligence toward MS 226 emerged.
But from most accounts, those situations have not come to fruition.
“We’ve had no rivalries, which was one of our main concerns,” said an MS 226 parent, who did not wish to give her name. “Space is an issue, but we’ve made it work so far.”
However, she did acknowledge she is still concerned about MS 226 being left behind.
“These are both good schools and need to be treated equally,” she said.
Hussey said she’s seen co-locations work. Her previous job was at Marsh Avenue Expeditionary Learning School in Staten Island, a co-located school. Many of her former colleagues attended Thursday’s ribbon cutting.
Next year, MS 297 will accept about 100 new sixth-graders and will add students until it reaches capacity at just over 300 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades in 2015-16. The school will also add classroom space in an adjacent hallway.
A high school focusing on black and Hispanic students, will also open next year in the school building, which the DOE said is still operating at under 100 percent capacity, at least for now.
Epic High School South, one of two campuses to open in Queens, will welcome students at the MS 226 building.
A second Epic campus will open at 94-25 117 St. in Richmond Hill, the former St. Benedict Joseph Labre School that has housed an annex of Richmond Hill High School for several years.
Epic’s incoming principal, Darius Mensah, attended Thursday’s ribbon cutting and has been in contact with the administration of the building’s other schools, including Hussey.
“We’ll make it work,” Hussey said. “I’ve spoken with [Mensah] and I think we’re going to work together really well.”