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City makes way for screened Beacon High School's expansion

As the founding principal of Beacon High School, Ruth Lacey has some of the city’s highest-scoring students and a rare exemption from most state exams. But she lacks a full-sized gymnasium and classrooms to accommodate rabid demand for the school.

Enter 521 West 44th St., the former site of a New York Public Library warehouse that will by 2015 become the new Beacon school. The city plans to convert the gutted concrete storage facility into a school with a cafeteria, special arts and science labs, and gym on the roof, as well as space for a District 75 special education school. There, the school is slated to grow from 1150 students to close to 1500.

Beacon is one of 103 screened high schools that Department of Education officials told to step up their special education enrollment practices because many are not enrolling their fair share of students with special education needs. Department officials have been meeting with Lacey and other principals throughout the year to strategize how to make their special education rates match those of local unscreened schools.

“As long as they meet the criteria of the screened school, we expect special ed students to be a part of those populations at those schools,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at the groundbreaking for the new school.

Beacon is piloting a three week long orientation for special education students and their parents this August to give them prepare for the new school year and get to know their teachers before September. Just under 5 percent of Beacon’s students required special education services last year, compared to the citywide average of 17 percent.

“I don’t think the numbers themselves mean anything if you don’t do the right thing,” Lacey said.

Joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Walcott this morning at the groundbreaking in Hell’s Kitchen, Lacey told reporters she is excited to have an opportunity to grow the school. She said the incoming students and families who stand to use the new space before they graduate are particularly happy to hear about the upgraded facilities.

“It’s not real yet, but all we have to say is we’re having a full [basketball] court, and that seems to be the magic words,” she said.

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