With a rezoning debate barely settled in Brooklyn — and another still raging on the Upper West Side — New York City has been forced to reckon with the fact that many of its schools are deeply segregated.
But it’s worth remembering that there are success stories in our midst, schools that have taken deliberate steps to enroll a diversity of students, creating “Integrated Schools in a Segregated City.”
That’s the name of a report released Wednesday by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, where staff at the school-review site Insideschools spent a year uncovering lessons from local schools that are tackling segregation.
The findings, released ahead of a forum to discuss integration, highlight 10 strategies that have already shown promise in New York City. Here are a few of them.
School has to be welcoming for everyone
Schools that successfully enroll a mix of students also manage to create a climate that welcomes everyone, the report notes.
P.S. 312 in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn — home to families from Russia, Haiti, Korea and beyond — invites families to visit and talk about their cultures and share traditional foods. That has helped build relationships between parents, and while more minority students have enrolled in the school in recent years, the report says, it hasn’t experienced “the rapid white flight that schools in neighboring Canarsie witnessed some 30 years ago.”
Sometimes, maintaining diversity takes leadership from the top. The report found that the principal at P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, helped set an inclusive tone by encouraging the PTA to reach out to parents of color for the school’s annual fundraiser.
Other times, parents themselves play an important role. At P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, the diverse PTA leads school tours for prospective families.
“Since the PTA represents just about every race and ethnic group imaginable, visiting parents are likely to see someone who looks like them as a tour leader, and the tour leaders are great ambassadors for their school,” the report notes.
Change can be good
Whether it’s a new school in an old building, or an existing school in a new space — a change of scenery can attract more families of all kinds.
“Parents are more willing to take a chance on a new school with no track record than with an old school with a long history of low performance and poor discipline,” the authors say.
Closing a school is often unpopular, and it doesn’t always work, they acknowledge. But “it’s way easier to start a school from scratch with a new principal, new staff, and new kids than to turn around an existing school with a longstanding bad reputation.”
In other cases, change happens inside the classroom. P.S. 84 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn enrolled a more diverse mix of students after overhauling its curriculum, starting new programs and moving away from “scripted lessons” that emphasized basic skills.
Similarly, implementing gifted or dual-language programs can attract more middle-class and language-diverse families, though those programs can themselves become segregated. The report points to P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a school with integrated gifted and dual-language programs.
Different admissions policies can help
Schools that accept students from outside regular zone lines, such as AmPark Neighborhood School in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, may attract students of different backgrounds, the report notes.
The Hellenic Classical Charter School in Sunset Park, Brooklyn is another example. Though it grew out of a Greek-Orthodox parochial school, demographic changes have resulted in a student body where few are of Greek heritage.
“Other cultures are celebrated, too. Each classroom studies a different country in preparation for the school’s multicultural fair; Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are important holidays,” the report notes.
New admissions policies have also shown moderate success. The city Department of Education has allowed some schools to set aside seats for students who are low-income, learning English or who meet other criteria. So far, such “Diversity in Admissions” plans have been approved at 19 schools, and are seen as a way to preserve diversity in gentrifying neighborhoods.