Mergers and acquisitions

City proposes two more mergers, including at one of city’s smallest high schools

The city is looking to consolidate two more sets of schools, in its latest effort to spur change in buildings with low-performing schools without resorting to disruptive closures.

The first merger would have Peace and Diversity Academy, a tiny, struggling school in the Bronx, be absorbed into Metropolitan High School, with which it already shares a building. The second would combine two elementary schools that share a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, merging Young Scholars’ Academy for Discovery and Exploration into Brighter Choice Community School.

The mergers are a departure from the policies of the previous administration, which broke up many large neighborhood schools into smaller ones that often shared buildings. But some of those small schools, including Peace and Diversity and Young Scholars Academy, struggled to attract students.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña has said that mergers are a practical solution to that problem and the budget challenges that come with it, since schools with few students are often unable to offer extracurricular programs or advanced classes. City officials have also pitched school mergers as a school-improvement strategy, if a higher-performing school absorbs a lower-performing one.

Both could apply to Peace and Diversity, which opened in 2004 with a high-profile partnership with the Anti-Defamation League, promising to offer anti-bias training and college-prep classes. It bounced between locations for years, and struggled to enroll students and get them to graduation.

2016-17 merger plans (so far)

  • Crown Heights: M.S. 354 with M.S. 334 (Proposal)
  • East Harlem: The Global Neighborhood Secondary School with P.S. 96 (Proposal)
  • ChinatownP.S. 137 with P.S. 134 Henrietta Szold (Proposal)
  • Bedford-StuyvesantJ.H.S. 057 with M.S. 385 (Proposal)
  • Throggs Neck (Bronx): Urban Assembly Academy of Civic Engagement with Mott Hall Community School (Proposal)
  • Bedford-Stuyvesant: Young Scholars’ Academy for Discovery and Exploration with Brighter Choice Community School (Proposal)
  • South Bronx (Bronx): Peace and Diversity Academy with Metropolitan High School (Proposal)

It appeared poised to improve in early 2015, when a new principal took over and resources began arriving through the Renewal program. City officials offered praise in a March press release, noting the school’s efforts at parent outreach. But that principal, John Starkey, left in the fall to lead a school in Buffalo. City materials say officials began holding meetings about the merger plan in November.

Peace and Diversity is among the smallest high schools in the city, with only 170 students last year. It also received students who were especially far behind academically. Education department data show it was one of only a few schools (excluding those designed for new immigrants or students who have been repeatedly held back) where almost every student fell into the lowest score bracket on their eighth-grade state tests.

Last year, Peace and Diversity’s graduation rate was 29 percent, and just 3 percent of students graduated “college-ready.” Metropolitan High School’s graduation rate is 65 percent, just below the city average.

The two elementary schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant also have differing academic results. While nearly 32 percent of students in grades 3-5 at Brighter Choice passed the state English exam last year, just over 18 percent of students did at Young Scholars’ Academy.

Both schools have fewer than 200 students, and neither is part of the city’s “Renewal” program.

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the proposals on Feb. 24. The panel has already approved five mergers this school year.

back to court

Nashville appeals judge’s order to share student information with state charters

The battle over student contact information will continue between Tennessee’s charter schools and its second largest school district.

Attorneys for Metro Nashville Public Schools on Friday appealed Chancellor Bill Young’s order to provide state-run charter schools with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of students.

The appeal came on the same day that Young originally set for Nashville’s district to comply with a new state law requiring sharing such information if charter operators request it. But a recent court extension assured Nashville leaders that they could exhaust the appeals process first.

The disagreement — which also touches on student privacy, school choice, and enrollment — has vexed state officials and lawmakers as they’ve sought to mitigate skirmishes between the state’s growing charter sector and its two largest districts, in Nashville and Memphis. Last month, Gov. Bill Haslam brought all parties to the table to seek a solution outside the courts. The State Department of Education was tasked with developing a way forward, but has not yet submitted a proposal.

While the state has urged local districts to comply with the year-old charter law, Nashville leaders argue it runs afoul of a federal law that gives districts discretion over who gets student contact information. For instance, school systems routinely share such information with companies that sell yearbooks and class rings.

The tussle has implications for the state’s largest school system, Shelby County Schools, in Memphis. Leaders there also have refused to hand over the information to charters in the state’s Achievement School District, which seeks to turn around Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Parents are divided on the issue. Some say the information exchange is an invasion of privacy, including when a Nashville charter school sent a barrage of text messages to parents, resulting in a $2.2 million settlement last year. Others say allowing charters to contact prospective students allows them to better explore their options.

Starting young

These 11-year-old Brooklyn students are asking New York City to do something about segregated schools

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Matilda and Eliza Seki, left, and their friends Noa and Benji Weiss, right, collected signatures at a district 15 meeting to discuss middle school integration efforts.

While they learned about the history of segregation, a group of Brooklyn 11-year-olds took a good look around their classrooms and realized their schools weren’t so different from the photos in their textbooks.

So Matilda and Eliza Seki paired up with their friends Noa and Benji Weiss — two sets of twins — and decided to do something about it. They launched a petition on calling on the city to integrate its schools.

“We learned about separate and equal in the civil rights movement, and that it was not equal,” Eliza said, referring to the “separate but equal” legal doctrine once used to justify segregation. “And since there are schools with people of only one race, and it’s all separated, it cannot be equal.”

Matilda and Eliza are in the sixth grade at M.S. 839, and Noa and Benji are fifth-graders at P.S. 10. They already have a bit of experience in activism, having joined the Women’s March in D.C., and helping to lead environmental clubs at their school. They hold sophisticated views for kids their age, and are aware of the hurdles ingrained in addressing school segregation.

Describing how housing patterns can tie into school quality, Benji began his thoughts by saying: “Let’s say you’re from a different culture or race and you don’t have as much money as other people do — because we still live in a racist country — and you’re in an area where the housing is cheaper but you don’t have as good schools.”

Across New York City, adults have debated how to spur integration in the country’s largest school system — and one of the most segregated. According to one recent analysis, the city’s most selective high schools enroll 84 percent white and Asian students, even though those groups make up only 30 percent of the city’s student enrollment.

But student-organized groups have also been at the forefront of a grassroots movement for more diverse schools. The work of budding advocates Matilda, Eliza, Noa and Benji caught the attention of some those groups, and they’ve now joined the ranks of Teens Take Charge and IntegrateNYC as some of the youngest members. The changes they’d like to see go beyond admissions policies, but also include a push for additional resources for underserved schools, hiring more teachers of color and curricula that reflects all students and cultures.

“We decided it was an important issue and we wanted to help fix it,” Noa said.

Matilda added: “Our schools should look like our city.”

Their schools are in District 15, where 81 percent of white students are concentrated in just three of the district’s most selective middle schools, according to an analysis by parents. The city has launched a series of public workshops to craft a new admissions model to integrate middle schools there, but these kids already have their own ideas for how to do that.

Benji, who is heading to middle school next year, said it would be “pretty good” if schools stopped picking students based on criteria such as class grades and attendance. Such “screening” contributes to segregation because of a number of factors — from which elementary schools students attend, to their parents’ ability to navigate the complicated admissions process.  

“It’s… important to learn about different peoples’ backgrounds, and religions, and cultures,” he said. “And also to make sure that all kids, no matter their race, religion or where they live can get the same, good education.”