In November 2014, our beloved “Homer Fink” gently encouraged me to cover education for the Brooklyn Heights blog. So off I went to a PTA Town Hall Meeting held at Plymouth Church. On that day I became an unwitting school overcrowding activist. At the time, my son was not yet four and we had just applied for Kindergarten. Like many parents with young children I was only beginning to learn about P.S. 8, District 13, who the key stakeholders were within the DOE and community and the complex issues facing the city’s public schools as a whole. The learning curve was steep and still is.
We all know about the wait list at P.S. 8 and the debate sparked by the subsequent re-zoning of Dumbo to P.S. 307. It garnered national media attention, most notably from the September 2015 New York Times piece, Race & Class Collide in Two Plans for Brooklyn Schools.
Since that very first meeting, I’ve attended countless DOE and CEC proceedings. I have tried my level best to keep my promise to John to relay (insert old-timey radio voice) “just the facts, ma’am.” So I would be remiss if I did not share, albeit a week later, NY Times Staff writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ Magazine essay, “Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City.” (Ms. Hannah-Jones won a 2016 Peabody Award for her series on school segregation for “This American Life.”)
The article has generated over 900 comments on the Times’ site and prompted the author to pen a response in which she described covering her own daughter’s school, P.S. 307, as “surreal.” Having been so close to the issue, it took me time to process the piece. But I will say that I share CEC member Amy Shire’s assessment of the facts of the meetings she describes and her sentiments on moving forward. Her comments to the NY Times are posted in their entirety below.
Discussion is welcome but I respectfully request you read the Times Magazine article in its entirety before commenting.
“I’m a member of the District 13 CEC who voted ‘yes’ to this rezoning proposal, and an MS 8 (former PS 8) parent. Regarding ‘PS 8 will only get whiter and more exclusive…the plan would send future students from the only three Farragut buildings that had been zoned for PS 8 to PS 307, ultimately removing almost all the low-income students from PS 8 and turning it into one of the most affluent schools in the city.':
1) Very few students in those PS 8-zoned buildings have actually attended PS 8 over the last several years. The DOE would not release numbers, but it was made clear that many of those families have chosen to send their children to 307 instead. One can speculate as to the reasons: perhaps feeling increasingly alienated as PS 8’s demographics ‘flipped'; perhaps feeling greater affinity with the Farragut community; we don’t know. But this rezone did not make PS 8 substantially whiter, or more affluent; to the dismay of many in the PS 8 community, that has already happened.
2) A DOE-organized meeting was held at 307 with Farragut parents in PS 8-zoned buildings to discuss their school zone preferences. When asked if they wanted the DOE to change the proposed zone lines so that those 3 buildings could retain their PS 8 zone, the response was a resounding ‘no.’ While I’m sure efforts could have been made to do more outreach on this, what I observed was a sincere, if imperfect, attempt to engage this parent community, solicit and abide by its wishes.
[Regarding] ‘This rezoning did not occur because it was in the best interests of PS 307’s black and Latino children, but because it served the interests of the wealthy, white parents of Brooklyn Heights.’
I could discuss for quite a while the fact that the rezone was proposed due to a school being very overcrowded, and its deleterious effects on children (be they wealthy, poor or in-between, all kids should have elbow room and art rooms). But more importantly: Yes, Ms. Hannah-Jones is right. Any potential benefits for PS 307 – chiefly, the value of integrating a segregated school – would be opportunistic “by-products” of the rezone. But to me this begs the question: And? Does this need to be the end of the story? I understand – as much as I can, being a middle-class white person – the depth of the historical grievances at play here, as well as the real fears of what can happen to a school when it flips demographically. These should remain part of a live conversation that continually challenges any temptation toward easy answers.
But given Ms. Hannah-Jones’ reflections on both her and her husband’s ultimately positive experiences with integrated schools, I am puzzled that no scenarios with a more positive way forward are explored here. I’m left with unanswered questions which I would dearly like to explore together as we continue to support PS 307.”
DISCLOSURE: I am a founding member of WeArePS8Too and have been nominated to serve on the P.S. 8 School Leadership Team (SLT).