Educators and parents discuss diversity in District 15 schools

New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the country, but its public schools and charter schools are the most segregatedThose findings have sparked intense debate by city educators, parents and politicians, including those in Brooklyn’s School District 15, where a two-hour forum was held on June 5 to discuss what “innovative models” could promote the desired diversity.

Over 100 community members turned out to hear or be heard by leaders in education and education reform. Opinions ranged from calling for more community schools to eliminating admissions criteria in city schools altogether. However, everyone agreed that they want more diversity—academically, socioeconomically, physically and racially.

“Schools are one place we still believe in equity,” said Jill Bloomberg, principal at Park Slope Collegiate, which has a student body that closely reflects the broader racial makeup of District 15 residents. “What if, rather than having Gifted and Talented programs, we said each school would serve students [regardless of] academic performance and test scores?”

“Every time you set criteria for admissions at one school,” added a mother from the audience, “you create a cohort of schools that take everyone who doesn’t meet those criteria.”

“Let’s mix everyone up and have no more neighborhood schools,” suggested a P.S. 321 PTA member. “I have a daughter in a wheelchair and am concerned that emphasis on ‘diversity’ will still leave out some.”

One of the forum moderators, Nikole Hannah-Jones, an investigative reporter who focuses on segregation and discrimination in housing and schools for ProPublica, noted, “It isn’t just a problem about segregation, but about [unequal distribution of resources] and also about parents choosing equity, but fighting Department of Education (DOE) attempts at equity.

“Parents support integration in concept, but when it comes to moving kids around,” she said, “there has to be the political will and clout to make the change.”

Lisa Donovan, president of CEC 1 on the Lower East Side, noted that when her district set up a system to meet its diversity goals through “community-controlled choice,” it worked well, but was ended by the DOE for not providing enough choice.

“This resulted in schools stratifying according to academic and socioeconomic factors,” Donovan said. “Mere choice is not equity, despite the DOE line.”

Although there was no agreement on set solutions, many parents walked away pleased that a discussion had even begun.

“I’m thinking about middle school for my son and diversity is important to me, so I am heartened that D15 is reaching out to other districts,” said P.S. 321 mom Serena Leigh Krombach. “It was definitely helpful. I got a chance to see principals and other districts.”

One of the forum’s co-sponsors, CEC 15, also issued a “resolution on diversity,” calling on the city DOE to work with community stakeholders to “develop admissions plans for new schools that promote diversity,” help develop a district-wide diversity strategy, support schools in efforts to achieve diversity, develop a community-driven Education Diversity Task Force, and create a system that encourages families to select schools based on more than just test scores and written assessments.

The event was also co-sponsored by Councilmembers Brad Lander and Carlos Menchaca.

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