Millennium approaches! City backs new elite school inside John Jay

‘Racial’ war at John Jay HS
Photo by Tom Callan

A new selective public school will open inside the John Jay HS building in Park Slope despite an outcry from students and teachers who say the decision encourages racial segregation.

But as the city’s Panel for Education Policy unanimously voted on Wednesday night to put the new Millennium Brooklyn HS inside the troubled Seventh Avenue building, the principal of the new school said she would “absolutely not support” a separate entrance for her elite students that would separate them from the mostly minority student body that passes through a metal detector to get to the building’s existing three high schools.

“I plan to recruit and maintain a diverse population [so] I would absolutely not support [a separate entrance],” said Principal Lisa Gioe.

Millennium Brooklyn, modeled on a successful elite public school in Manhattan, will share space with three existing small, largely minority schools, whose parents and teachers opposed the new high school, which will benefit from increased funding and start-up money not available to the existing schools.

“The city didn’t listen to a thing we said,” said Maria Braga, a teacher inside the John Jay HS building. “The hearing was just a rubber stamp.”

Other foes waved signs reading “Separate is not equal!” and shouted, “Shame on you!” as Department of Education officials tried to speak. Officials had to pause frequently to ask for quiet and for people to sit down.

Mostly, protesters said that the Department of Education did a poor job connecting with, and listening to, them during the entire debate over the Millennium siting. (And it didn’t help that one member of the voting panel was checking e-mails for over an hour during the public hearing.)

“It’s an outrage,” said Assemblyman Jim Brennan (D–Park Slope). “The whole decision-making process is a sham.”

Fear about racism and segregation fueled a protest in front of the beleaguered Seventh Avenue campus last week — but the larger issue, namely unequal funding, remains a subtext.

The new school will get about $35,000 more per year than the three existing schools in the building. That money is slated for computers, desks, blackboards and other goodies for the first five years — cash that the current schools never saw.

An Education Department spokesman said last week that Millennium is simply benefiting from a policy a start-up policy and that existing schools were not new when they moved onto the campus.

But principals and teachers at the John Jay HS say their crumbling facilities should have put them first on the list for city cash.

“They should give us the funding we never got,” said Helena Ortiz, who teaches history at the John Jay campus. “And they should make an effort to integrate.”

The teachers have an ally in Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope).

“[The department] should invest resources equally,” he said. “There are deep grievances about equality in our education system.”

In Manhattan, Millennium students receive higher per-student expenditure rates than kids at John Jay HS. At the Secondary School of Law, students get $16,973 annually while Millennium students receive $18,103.

For years, John Jay HS has been the epicenter of a strange neighborhood phenomenon: The school is an island of color in largely white Park Slope, where mostly minority students must commute from outside the neighborhood.

That history — and the ensuing tension — played a part in the protest in front of the building last week, when teachers and kids chanted, “Hey, ho! Racism has got to go!”

Six percent of students at John Jay HS are white; 36 percent are black; 50 percent are Hispanic and seven percent are Asian. By contrast, 35 percent of Millennium students in Manhattan are white.

The Department of Education says it expects the demographic of Millennium Brooklyn to be diverse and that all schools will “collaborate successfully.” More than half of the city’s schools share buildings with other schools and “start-up” money goes to all new schools.

Lisa Goie, the principal of Millennium Brooklyn, says she will not allow a separate entrance for her elite school inside the John Jay HS building.
Photo by Tom Callan