Brooklyn’s District 16 urges mayor, chancellor to phase out the gifted program they once fought to create

Even as some parents and politicians mobilize to preserve gifted programs, the Community Education Council in Brooklyn’s District 16 passed a resolution Monday night calling on the mayor and chancellor to phase out those programs.

It’s a remarkable turn for a district that once fought for gifted classes in their schools, saying it was unfair that their historically black neighborhood didn’t have any. 

But now the Community Education Council says its single gifted program, at P.S. 26 Jesse Owens, has not created more equity in their district, which includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Instead, they want the education department to pilot a schoolwide enrichment model in all of the district’s schools, an approach that tasks educators with identifying what interests students and building lessons around that. 

NeQuan McLean, president of the council, said the current program forces schools to compete for enrollment and deepens divides among students. 

“We’re taking the highest performing students and we’re putting them in one school. No. that doesn’t make sense. That’s not equitable,” he said. 

Another issue, members said, is that parents aren’t choosing to enroll. Most city gifted programs begin in kindergarten. But in District 16 and a handful of other historically underserved neighborhoods, such programs don’t start until third grade — which often means parents would have to choose to transfer their children to a new school to take advantage of gifted classes. 

Education Councilman Victor Iroh said his daughter was accepted to the district’s gifted program, but he wasn’t impressed with it, so he chose to stay put.

“I saw the program and thought, ‘You’re not really teaching anything special,’” he said. 

The council’s resolution also calls on the city to support the recent recommendations of the School Diversity Advisory Group, a mayoral-appointed committee tasked with proposing ways to encourage integration in one of the country’s most segregated school systems. 

Among the advisory group’s proposals: eliminating the single test that is currently used for most gifted programs, and phasing out the current model in favor of programs that are more inclusive. While most students in New York City schools are black or Hispanic, those children make up only about 20% of enrollment in gifted programs. 

The proposal has sparked fierce pushback, including from the councilman representing Bedford-Stuyvesant, Robert Cornegy, who has argued the city should instead expand gifted to prepare more black and Hispanic students for slots at coveted middle and high schools. 

District 16’s education council on Monday released a letter they sent to Cornegy asking him to now join them in their push for a different approach to gifted. 

“Since we worked with you to establish G&T in [District 16], we have learned that there are expectations for G&T that were not met and require us to rethink what is best for all the children,” their letter states. 

McLean said he expects the council’s move will be controversial. Still, he said: “We did the right thing.”