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7 Elementary Schools Will Try to Boost Student Diversity in Pilot Program

By Amy Zimmer | November 20, 2015 12:13pm | Updated on November 22, 2015 9:48pm
 Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (with children's auther Jon Scieszka) at a recent event at Park Slope's P.S. 133. The school sets aside 35 percent of the kindergarten seats each year for kids who receive free lunch and those who are learning English. The DOE is now letting 7 other schools have similar admissions policies.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina (with children's auther Jon Scieszka) at a recent event at Park Slope's P.S. 133. The school sets aside 35 percent of the kindergarten seats each year for kids who receive free lunch and those who are learning English. The DOE is now letting 7 other schools have similar admissions policies.
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DNAInfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — More than a year after seven Manhattan and Brooklyn elementary school principals asked the Department of Education to change their admissions policies to foster diversity at their schools, the DOE agreed to their requests, Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced Friday.

The principals and their communities watched as their student bodies were quickly becoming more segregated, particularly in terms of their racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. So they wanted to make changes to stem the tide.

The admission pilot, which goes into effect before the upcoming kindergarten application season, will allow these schools to give priority to low-income students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, English Language Learners (ELLs) or students in the child welfare system.

The changes will go in effect for this year’s kindergarten admissions season, which kicks off Dec. 7.

The move comes after Fariña drew ire for telling parents, “You don’t need to have diversity within one building. But you need to look for diversity in many different places, in many different ways,” as DNAinfo first reported.

She touted “sister schools,” where wealthy PTAs could share resources with low-income schools and their students could become pen pals.

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended the chancellor, saying she was “responding to the reality of our city,” and that “we also know that there’s some things that are achievable in the near term and some things that aren’t.”

The pilot, which was originally reported by Chalkbeat, is an about face for the DOE. Morever, the city now says it’s working to expand diversity across its schools, and this initiative is one piece of a larger effort.

“Students learn from the diverse experiences and cultures of their fellow students, and it’s important that our schools reflect the diversity of our city,” Fariña said in a statement. “I’m hopeful that these changes will help serve as a model for schools across the city.”

At Fort Greene’s Academy of Arts and Letters, for instance, low-income students will be given priority for 40 percent of its incoming kindergarten, while such students will be given priority at Carroll Gardens’ Brooklyn New School following siblings and current pre-K students.

At the Children’s School in Gowanus (where de Blasio sent his kids), students who qualify for free or reduced lunch or are ELLs will have priority for a third of the seats.

At the Brooklyn Arts and Science Elementary School, located near the rapidly gentrifying border of Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, students who are ELLS or in the child welfare system will have priority for 20 percent of the seats.

Washington Heights’ Castle Bridge School will give priority to low-income students for 60 percent of its seats and to students from families with an incarcerated parent for 10 percent of its seats.

The Earth School and Neighborhood School, both in the East Village, will give priority to students who qualify for free lunch or ELLs for 45 percent of its seats.

At more than half of the city's 1,600 public schools, black and Hispanic students make up 90 percent or more of the student population, a DNAinfo analysis of 2013-14 DOE data found.

Meanwhile, half of the city's white students are concentrated in just 7 percent of the schools, and half of the city's Asian students are concentrated in just 6 percent of schools.

The calls for addressing the city’s segregated schools have been growing louder in recent months.

“Chancellor Fariña has taken an important first step towards meeting this challenge,” said David Tipson, director of New York Appleseed, a social justice nonprofit that advocates for equity in city schools.

"The tremendous demographic changes occurring across our neighborhoods,” he added, “demand proactive policies to avoid repeating the ruinous patterns of segregation so familiar to us in urban America.”

David Bloomfield, professor of education leadership at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center, said he wonders how the pilot will be evaluated and for how long and what further steps might follow — and how quickly.

“Any steps toward diversity are welcome, yet the administration's actions are still too timid and isolated,” he said.

“In our heavily segregated school system — including vast isolation by abilities, housing, race, and income — baby steps for seven schools seems as much about delay as it is about progress,” Bloomfield said. “This continues the chancellor's and mayor's mixed messages about their commitment to equality.”