Public advocate calls for a ‘chief diversity officer’ to oversee school desegregation

Calling the city’s approach to school integration “piecemeal,” Public Advocate Letitia James on Wednesday pushed for the appointment of a chief diversity officer within the New York City Department of Education.

“Our public school system is still far too segregated and far too unequal,” she said. “We really need to look at the system overall to see where we can address diversity.”

Her announcement comes on the heels of the release of the city’s second annual diversity report, a document required by law, in which the city outlined its most recent efforts to desegregate schools.

Nineteen schools, for example, have been allowed to reserve seats for students who are poor, learning English or have risk factors such as an incarcerated parent. And the city has launched new gifted programs in neighborhoods where they were lacking.

But James, along with Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, and local activists, criticized the city for not moving forward with bolder plans.

A chief diversity officer, James said, would help define what school diversity means, evaluate current policies and come up with a “systematic” plan. The officer could be appointed by the state, she said, or by the mayor through an executive order.

Both the mayor and the Department of Education have promised to advance a “bigger vision” for school diversity. Though no details have emerged, that plan does not seem to include a chief diversity officer.

“At the DOE, the buck stops with the chancellor and she’s asked her senior leadership team to work on these important efforts through operations, programming, instruction and policy under her leadership,” department spokeswoman Devora Kaye wrote in an email. “These efforts extend far beyond one individual or division and a more simplistic approach would discredit the importance of the effort, the complexity of the issue and the need for collaboration both internally and externally.”