In I Learn America, five immigrant students at International High School in Brooklyn try to learn English and build a future.
As urban neighborhoods gentrify, “emotionally charged, racially tinged fights over neighborhood school boundaries” are increasing, writes Mike Petrilli. Middle-class parents want a little diversity — preferably racial/ethnic but not socioeconomic — at their child’s school, but not too much.
In Brooklyn, a popular elementary school in gentrifying Park Slope, P.S. 321, is overcrowded. Officials plan to shrink its attendance zone, redistricting some children into a new school that will have more low-income students.
Park Slopers claim to want diversity, writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in the New York Post. That’s why they didn’t move to the suburbs when their kids neared school age. But people in the 10 blocks that will be assigned to the new school are furious.
Too much “socioeconomic diversity will start to affect the quality of their children’s education,” Petrilli writes. Low-income children start school far behind middle-class children.
A similar dynamic is playing out in the nation’s capital. Wilson High and Alice Deal Middle School, located in D.C.’s tony (and baby-booming) Ward 3, enjoyed massive physical-plant updates recently, with their buildings fully refurbished, expanded, and improved. Now affluent parents west of Rock Creek Park are sending their children to those schools in greater numbers than in decades.
. . . The schools are getting crowded, and district officials are looking at shrinking their boundaries to address the problem. (Sound familiar?) The outcome is easy to predict: Students who live further away—who tend to be poorer and of minority races—will be rezoned to other campuses, and the Ward 3 schools will become dramatically less diverse.
Petrilli hopes for way to “create (and maintain) racially and socioeconomically diverse schools” in cities.
Richard Kahlenberg writes about “new hopes for school integration” in American Educator. Economic — not racial — integration matters most, he writes.
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.