The struggle for P.S. 84

The struggle for P.S. 84 will determine whether Latino immigrant parents can share a Brooklyn school with middle-class whites who are gentrifying the Williamsburg neighborhood.

The first round of integration went badly, reports Capital New York. In fall of 2006, P.S. 84 was “83 percent Latino, but the 8 percent of white students comprised nearly half of the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes.” The “newcomer” parents were eager to volunteer in classrooms, contribute their fund-raising skills and lead the PTA.

. . . during elections for the School Leadership Team, a council that comprises parents and staff. (Brooke) Parker, the Pre-K parent, stood up to give her stump speech. Depending on whom you ask, the speech was either a galvanizing call to improve the school or an affront to its teachers and pre-existing parents. Also depending on whom you ask, Parker was rudely heckled or duly called out for her own rudeness.

“I was heckled by the faculty, in front of my kids,” Parker complains. “The faculty was like, ‘Who are you to come in here?’ The insinuation was that I couldn’t be accountable to anyone except my constituency, which was perceived to be middle-class.”

Jaime Estades, who later became PTA president, put it another way: “A parent stood up and talked about how bad the teaching in the school was and that changes had to be made. You can’t just say that to a bunch of teachers.”

Newcomer parents objected to the school’s annual Three Kings Day parade, a cultural tradition for Latino parents. Newcomers objected to selling ice cream in Pre-K classes to help fund the PTA.  Newcomers, many of them involved in the arts, wanted progressive education, while immigrant parents favored traditional methods.

The reception they received shocked the newcomer parents. As they saw it, they were working hard to turn a bad school into a good one only to run into opponents who kept making it about race.

Few white students went on to first grade at P.S. 84, which went through several principals before hiring a Latina raised in Williamsburg.

Sereida Rodriguez-Guerra is trying to lure new students. She’s introduced progressive educational programs, such as “the Renzulli method, which matches curriculum to students’ learning styles and interests, as well as the Visual Thinking Strategies program, which aims to improve critical thinking and descriptive language skills through discussion of visual images.”

Test scores remain low — the school has an “F” rating — which advocates blame on previous administrations. The principal says the school doesn’t “teach to the test.”

The atmosphere is calmer, though tensions remain between parent groups. “Last year, a group of mostly newcomer parents volunteered their time, money and artisanal skills to renovate the long-defunct library.” Other newcomers are redesigning the school’s web site.

White enrollment is back up to 7.6 percent, mostly in pre-K and kindergarten. But middle-class white families won’t stick with P.S. 84 without signs of academic progress.

If the school remains half-empty, the unused space is likely to be given to a charter school. P.S. 84 loyalists say that will destroy their school.

Meanwhile, Williamsburg continues to gentrify.

Via HechingerEd.

About Joanne


  1. This sort of story makes me crazy. Kids can’t read, write or add, but boy!~3 Kings day is on the calendar. Test scores say it all.

  2. Sean Mays says:

    I don’t know the intimate details of New York’s elementary tests, but I was raised there and have experience as a teacher with high stakes tests in two other states. When administration starts to say “we don’t teach to the test” and test scores are really low, it’s time to run for cover. Every time I look at these exams, they’re shockingly low caliber, maybe they SHOULD be, because you know, they’re designed to be the minimum bar. Not teaching to the test shouldn’t be a bar to passing the competency hurdle; EVER.

    What percent of schools in New York earn F’s, anybody know? Here in Colorado, the state Department of Ed just redid their framework and nobody got the lowest rating! If I recall correctly, nearly 85% of schools earned A’s and B’s; and just a few D’s.

  3. Sean Mays – that makes Colorado sound something like Lake Wobegone, where everyone was above average.

  4. What a sad story. Everyone always points fingers at so-called “white flight” but it sounded like these white parents didn’t so much run away as get pushed out. Why even bother investing one’s time and efforts in trying to turn around a failing school if the thanks is to be called “racist”?

  5. It’s funny how people think blatant racism is OK as long as it ‘s pointed in the right direction.

  6. People who suck don’t like it when someone says “You suck.” But, even if you shut them up, you still suck.

    However, I DO like ice cream and 3 Kings day (especially the cake!)

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    I was all set to be on the side of the newcomers, but objecting to a Three Kings celebration? C’mon. That’s a major holiday in Spanish-speaking families. That’s when kids get their Christmas presents! Plus, as Mike says, the cake is really good.

    If you want to get people on your side, best not to come in and attack them first thing.

  8. BadaBing says:

    White parents should know better, but I guess they’re going to have to learn the hard way. Criticizing underperforming minorities will usually get you pegged as a racist. Advice to white parents: Start learning Spanish, enthusiastically support Latino holidays and cultural traditions, and get yourselves invited to some Quinceañeras. You have now entered a culture of celebration, and it can be quite festive if you have the right attitude. Multiculturalism is not about white people. In fact, it’s code for non-white, so get over yourselves.

  9. Belinda Gomez says:

    Badabing–Quinceañeras are Mexican, not so much Puerto Rican. And I’m pretty sure most kids get their presents at Christmas. Learning Spanish? Why? Are the kids tested in Spanish? No, and it’s not incumbent upon the anglo parents to fit in with the rest. If nothing else, it’s time that the failing practices that the majority of “old” parents tolerated be swept away.

  10. It’s so foolish, right? Their school and the neighborhood suck, and they should just totally embrace these forward-thinking white people who are willing to put their own kids on the line in an effort to boost their property values!

    Seriously, does anyone here have any idea how absurdly segregated New York City and its metropolitan area are, or the role that gentrification has played in making it that way? It’d be one thing if 90%+ of the metro area weren’t strictly off-limits to the people being displaced, but . . .