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Education Experts to Tackle UWS Middle School Diversity at Symposium

 This Thursday's panel could be a first step toward integrating neighborhood schools, the organizer says.
This Thursday's panel could be a first step toward integrating neighborhood schools, the organizer says.
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Education leaders want to address the racial disparity at Upper West Side middle schools by hosting a symposium this week analyzing diversity in the district.

Community Education Council 3, which covers schools on the West Side of Manhattan between 59th and 122nd streets, will gather with a panel of experts on Thursday who have experience with everything from system-wide school issues to individual institutions. 

Despite the district's diverse student population — 32.9 percent of students are Latino, 31.4 percent are white and 22.7 are black, according to Department of Education figures provided by CEC 3 — many elementary and middle schools south of West 90th Street remain majority white.

Middle schools such as the Computer School, at 100 W. 77th St., and the Center School, at 100 W. 84th St., are 50 percent or more white, the data shows. Meanwhile, the student body at M.S. 250, at 735 West End Ave., is roughly 55 percent Latino, while students at West Preparatory Academy, at 150 W. 105th St., are 60 percent black.

Middle schools were the "obvious next step" for the education council after its work to integrate the district's elementary schools through a controversial plan approved in November, said CEC 3 middle school committee chairwoman Kristen Berger.

Geography won't play the same role in middle school integration because students in the district aren't zoned for any particular school.

"In middle schools, we aren't tethered by geography," said Berger, who is organizing Thursday's symposium. "We get away from the real estate component that has segregated our schools."

But the process of applying to middle schools comes with its own set of challenges for diversity advocates.

While it affords parents the opportunity to find the school that best matches their children's individual learning style, it may prove particularly onerous for low-income families with little time to spare, Berger and advocates said. 

In her district, the schools with the most competitive admissions tend to be "wealthier and whiter than the other schools," she said. "There are concentrations of high socioeconomic status and there are concentrations of low socioeconomic status.”

For example, at the majority-white Center School, where roughly 85 percent of students score a 3 or 4 on their 2016 English language exams, and about 75 percent score a 3 or 4 on their math exams, less than 10 percent live in poverty, according to figures provided by the CEC.

At the majority-Latino M.S. 250, where only 25 percent of students scored a 3 or 4 on their 2016 English language exams and less than 25 percent scored similarly on their math exams, about 70 percent live in poverty, data shows.

The expert panel Berger has assembled to discuss middle school diversity includes Jeff Young, the former superintendent of the Cambridge, Mass., public school system; David Goldsmith, president of the community education council serving District 13, who worked on plans to integrate two Brooklyn schools; and Jill Bloomberg, principal of the secondary school Park Slope Collegiate, who has been vocal about racial injustice in New York City public schools and is currently under investigation for allegations of Communist organizing

"This is literally just the first step," she said of the symposium. "Let’s put the challenge out there to the parent body."