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Diversity-Based Admissions Coming to 12 More City Schools

By Amy Zimmer | October 20, 2016 5:53pm
 Principal David Getz of East Side Middle School on the Upper East Side, which will give priority for 10 percent of its seats to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
Principal David Getz of East Side Middle School on the Upper East Side, which will give priority for 10 percent of its seats to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.
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DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

MANHATTAN — A dozen schools are adopting new diversity-based admissions processes next year, after seven elementary schools began piloting the program, the Department of Education announced Thursday.

These schools will give priority to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, English Language Learners and/or those in the child welfare system or affected by parental or guardian incarceration.

They will set aside a certain percentage of seats within the context of existing admissions priorities, since, for instance, zoned schools are obliged to serve all students living within their zone.

The participating schools applied to change their admissions under the DOE’s Diversity in Admissions initiative, launched last spring, which invited all schools to submit new enrollment proposals for future admissions cycles.

The applications for the programs are rolling, and additional proposals are under review for possible implementation for the 2017-18 admissions cycle, officials said.

“I believe that increasing school diversity means improving our students' education, and I am personally committed to this work,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, marking a significant departure from comments she made last year, when she told parents that “you don’t need to have diversity within one building.”

Two middle schools on the list are in District 15 — which includes Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Sunset Park — where parents have been vocal about wanting to changes admissions to better integrate the student bodies.

“Increasing diversity is a critical part of building a thriving learning community and it’s a real benefit for our whole building,” said principal Arin Rusch, of the highly sought-after M.S. 447, the Math & Science Exploratory School in Boreum Hill, which will give priority to 30 percent of its seats for students qualified for free and reduced lunch, and will also adjust its admissions process to admit a more academically diverse range of students.

M.S. 839, a new school in Windsor Terrace that’s already getting rave reviews from parents in District 15, is also on the list.

There’s also East Side Middle School, a selective, high-performing school on the Upper East Side, in District 2, which includes Greenwich Village and TriBeCa — and is also seeing a growing movement to tackle segregation in middle schools. The school will set aside priority for 10 percent of its seats to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Other District 2 schools on the list include, P.S. 3 (the Charrette School in Manhattan), a popular school in the West Village, and Yorkville’s 5-year old East Side School for Social Action in Manhattan, which has received accolades for its focus on social emotional development.

Included are several progressive schools in the Lower East Side/East Village’s District 1: the East Village Community School, the Children’s Workshop School and East Side Community School. Parent leaders in those schools are very focused on increasing integration for the whole district and are working on a larger plan for the area.

District 17’s P.S. 770 (the New American Academy), a Waldorf-inspired school in East Flabush is on the list. So is Harvest Collegiate High School, a small school in Union Square where students can opt into the honors program by taking on extra work, and East Harlem’s Central Park East High School, founded by legendary progressive educator Deborah Meier.

The elite citywide gifted and talented school, Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst, will set aside 40 percent of seats for students who qualify for free and reduced lunch — and who also score above the 97th percentile on the G&T, which is required to get in. (BSI’s principal had made waves a couple of years ago for making a comment about Spanish speakers that parents felt was racist.)

Principals collaborated with superintendents as well as their school communities, including their School Leadership Teams, to shape the proposals, officials said.

While many advocates consider expanding the roster of the diversity initiative to 19 schools an important step, questions remain whether a piecemeal approach to integration of New York City public schools can put a dent in what is among the most segregated school district in the nation.

“These tentative steps move a limited number of schools in the right direction but these ‘set asides’ alone distract from the many other strategies urgently needed to improve educational opportunities for all students,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

"’Set asides’ help to racially balance disproportionately white, wealthier student enrollments but do little to improve — and may harm — nearby schools, some so segregated that they are called ‘apartheid schools’ by a recent UCLA study of segregated schooling in New York.”

There are also concerns with having set asides at screened schools, whether at G&T programs or selective middle schools, said Rene Kathawala, pro bono counsel for Orrick law firm and lawyer for New York Appleseed, a social justice nonprofit that advocates for equity in city schools.

“The screening itself typically results in segregated schools and having marginal increases misses the point of the whole effort,” Kathawala said.