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Not your father’s middle school: MS 51 may see most-radical changes in plan to diversify Slope-area classrooms, expert says

Screen shot: Middle schools in District 15, such as MS 51 in Park Slope, will no longer be allowed to screen new students based on grades, attendance, test scores, and other criteria, and will instead reserve seats for kids from low-income families.
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A plan to desegregate middle schools in Park Slope and its surrounding neighborhoods that city officials signed off on last week will most dramatically shake up the student body that fills coveted seats at Fifth Avenue’s MS 51, according to a local parent who blogs about education.

Mayor DeBlasio’s initiative to desegregate learning houses in District 15 — where he once served as a school-board member, and also includes classrooms in Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Red Hook, Kensington, and Sunset Park — calls for eliminating admissions standards that reserved spaces for high-performing students who stood out in screenings, and instead setting aside more than half of desks for low-income or vulnerable pupils.

And administrators at MS 51, where DeBlasio sent both of his kids, placed the most emphasis on the screenings axed in new policies that will take effect in the 2019-20 school year, according to the mom, who said its hallways will likely look the least familiar come next fall.

“MS 51 will be very, very different,” said Joyce Szuflita, a District 15 parent who blogs for NYC School Help. “It was the one school that had a very distinct academic screen.”

For decades, all but one of District 15’s 11 middle schools — which are not zoned for specific areas, giving families some choice in where to send their kids — screened pupils based on criteria that included attendance, grades, test scores, and other factors, yielding segregated student bodies with most youngsters coming from families with means to bolster their education outside the classroom, according to a report officials released in announcing their new plan on Sept. 20.

MS 51 educators held the screenings’ specific categories in high regard when determining its admissions, according to Szuflita, who said leaders at other schools, such as MS 443 New Voices Middle School, favored other, self-designed criteria that allowed for more diversity.

But now, those screenings are no more at the schools, which will all reserve 52 percent of incoming sixth graders’ seats for children from families that are low-income or homeless, or speak English as a second language.

Parents will still be able to choose their kids’ preferred schools by ranking them, but now a lottery factors slightly higher than choice, or merit, under the new plan — which was tailor-made for the district’s middle schools, but can be a blueprint for diversifying classrooms citywide, according to DeBlasio.

“This is a ripe moment,” Hizzoner said. “Now, we have to execute and deliver on it to show parents across the city this approach can work.”

District 15 is among the city’s most socioeconomically and racially segregated, according to the report, which shows the ethnicity of student populations grow disproportionate over the last decade.

At MS 51, for example, white kids accounted for 36 percent of pupils in 2007 — roughly the same percentage as Latino students — before shooting up to 56 percent in 2017, when Latinos fell to just 19 percent.

And over in Greenwood Heights, the number of Latino pupils at MS 433 took a similar dive, falling from 53 percent in 2007 to 33 percent in 2017, as the amount of white students rose from 21 to 49 percent in that time.

And in general, the district’s middle schools skewed to socioeconomic extremes, according to the report, which noted that more than 90 percent of students enrolled at Sunset Park Prep MS 821 and nearby MS 136 qualified for no-cost or reduced lunches before the city started handing out free lunches regardless of income last year, while less than 30 percent of children at MS 51 and MS 447, the Math and Science Exploratory School, qualified for the subsidized-lunch program before it became universal.

A working group of local educators, parents, city officials, and policy experts crafted the new diversity plan after months of discussions and public meetings with residents, who were invited to no less than three sessions to weigh in on the scheme.

And because District 15 is chock full of high-performing schools in addition to MS 51, incoming middle schoolers will likely get the same quality of education no matter where they land under the new plan, according to Szuflita, who said kids in other districts may not be so lucky if the policies take effect on their turf.

“I would have sent my own child to the vast majority of the schools in this district without reservation,” said the mom, whose kids graduated from Dean Street’s MS 447. “This just happens to be a very good clump of worthy middle schools that just haven’t been discovered by more affluent families.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Posted 12:00 am, September 25, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Charles from Bklyn says:
This change is necessary to improve diversity and adhere to the Constitutional prohibition on segregated schools. However, everyone should take note the 2010 census showed 47% white, 25% black and %28 latino, 12% Asian in NYC. Therefore, a 25% split between the designated groups for each school is impossible. In the end, all children need a chance to succeed, and dispersion of ethic and social-economic groups is one of many issues to address. Looks like the DOE is addressing this issue now, and thr hope is for a better future for all.
Sept. 25, 9:31 am
Tony Expressed says:
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Who's initiative? I tripped over the second paragraph. This was a grassroots initiative. Mayor deBlasio only got on board at the end.
Sept. 25, 11:08 am
Fred from Windsor Terrace says:
What a poorly thought out plan.
Sept. 25, 12:49 pm
Sparkle from Bay Ridge says:
I support this plan. When poor children sit next to richer kids they magically get smarter and learn better. It has nothing to do with the quality of the teachers or parents being involved.
Sept. 25, 5:23 pm
chaz from brooklyn says:
Selecting and separating by ability and merit, so as not to slow down the progress of those most able, is not the same as racism, as the deliberate segregation by race. To falsely portray it as such is a destructive narrative that pits one group against another, and serves to divide us just as much as our Divider-in-Chief in the White House does on a national basis. For there is no equivalent of a racist Southern Governor standing in the doorway of these schools, barring any group because of the color of their skin. To use our children as colored chess pieces in this manner is to deny the truth & essence of Dr. King’s exhortation that we need to judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. To throw merit out the window is however a destructive segregation of sorts - a reverse segregation by ability, a punishing of those with the who are high-achievers , no matter their race or class. For when we select & cater to lower common denominators of ability we are indeed watering down our standards, our goals and what we’re aiming for - no matter what NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza clams to the contrary. By not aiming for the top, by not upholding our highest standards, we fail our best and brightest students. Instead of spreading the wealth we are in effect spreading the poverty, as we short-sightedly rob Peter to pay Paul. Yes of course there is racism in our society. Yes of course these is poverty born of a class system that is a product of our economic system. But to falsely paint merit admission standards as being examples of racism is a misleading & damaging narrative that divides and diverts us from focusing on the wider social context and causes. If the children of poverty are portrayed as not having to have the where-with-all to break out of the cycle of poverty then it is the class economic system that needs changing, not the merit based standards of schools. Of course the many generations of poor New Yorkers who have prevailed despite poverty might be an argument against that analysis. But in the absence of some such radical social change our goal should always be to maintain color-blind high standards, not to water them down in a search for a false diversity that ignores the real needs of our students - all our students, of every race and class. For if we don’t continue to aim for the stars for everyone, then we’ll all stay in the gutter…
Sept. 26, 8:44 am
Joe from Park Slope says:
What a Trump lover. You say you oppose the Divider in Chief yet you support his exclusionary policies. You may not like Trump but Trump loves you!
Sept. 26, 2:26 pm
Gary from Fort Greene says:
Exclusionary policies...like enforcing immigration laws? Other than trying to stop or at least slow the steady inrush of illegals, whom has Trump excluded from what? This school inevitably will allow and deny admission on the basis of race, gender and ethnicity. What are the odds it will survive a strict scrutiny court review? Because that's what's going to happen.
Sept. 26, 3:28 pm
Getting out of dodge from Carroll Gardens says:
Removing merit from admission simply waters down the schools. Kids in middle school have much different abilities and the change assumes that everyone is the same. We’re leaving the district because of this change. All kids deserve a fair education including the high performing kids. It’s not fair to my child that she will not be able to learn so that others can catch up. Admission to “gifted” schools by lottery is a joke.
Oct. 21, 9:38 pm

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