Farina: How PR and power brunches with developers can desegregate schools

Farina: How PR and power brunches with developers can desegregate schools
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It is the breakfast of education-equality champions.

Education officials in gentrifying areas should help desegregate schools by meeting with real-estate agents and developers over pancakes and coffee and asking them to sell their clients on struggling institutions, city schools czar Carmen Farina told an auditorium of parents at a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday evening.

“One of the things I’ve recommended to superintendents is have breakfast with your real estate agent, particularly the real-estate agents in the new developments going up,” she said during a question and answer session with parents from District 13, which stretches from Dumbo to parts of Bedford–Stuyvesant.

Farina said the power brunches would give officials chance to show off their schools’ programs to local property sharks selling to yuppy parents worried about sending their kids to schools with lots of low-income or minority students.

She used Vinegar Hill’s PS 307 — a school that traditionally served kids from a nearby housing project, but the city controversially expanded this year to encompass hoity toity Dumbo — as an example, saying its Mandarin program attracts parents from all over the borough.

And at least one local dad said it actually wasn’t a crazy idea, but that the moguls changing the neighborhood — not the schools — should be responsible for starting the conversation.

“I think it’s good advice, but I’m skeptical, because why should I have to go to the realtor and the developer?” said Faraji Hannah-Jones, PS 307’s parent-teacher association co-president.

Farina also prescribed public relations as a cure to parents who expressed concern that she will close their kids’ under-enrolled middle schools — like Clinton Hill’s Peace Academy, which the city axed this year — suggesting they focus on branding to attract more students.

She cited Vinegar Hill’s MS 313, which currently has 74 students and is on the state’s “persistently dangerous list” due to reports of violence.

The city is moving it to a new luxury apartment building in Dumbo and renaming it “the Dock Street School for Science, Technology, Arts, and Mathematics Studies” — with some help from politically connected public relations firm Berlin Rosen, which happens to be a client of the building’s owner Two Trees.

The overhauled school has since received an influx of applications, according to the District 13 Community Education Council.

Farina said the forthcoming middle school in developer Bruce Ratner’s Pacific Park megacomplex could do something similar to attract families — suggesting dual language programs as a sticking point, which, she assured the audience, are very hot right now.

“Think about an Atlantic Yards theme that might appeal to parents,” she said. “What is a middle school going to be?

But struggling schools will have to rebrand fast — Farina said the Department of Eduction plans to merge those don’t have enough students to function successfully, and promised to release a list of the affected institutions by September.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill