NY Times Writer Goes Deep on Re-Zoning & Segregation in NYC Schools

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.

Amy Shire:

“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).

Share this Story:
  • HereToStay

    From what I see every day in this city, there is just too much parent involvement today… Just send your kid to the school they are zoned for, be a little engaged, and then go on with your life…

  • AbeLincoln

    Oh just be quiet already .

  • FoodArtforKids.com

    As an interviewee for that piece, I was kind of disappointed by what she wrote.

  • Heights Observer

    I guess we’ll see your pro-real estate developer’s aspect on this issue later on in the thread.

  • Reggie

    I was very impressed by the in depth historical background. As I read the article I thought, this will be nominated for journalism awards. On the other hand, there were several instances when there was a blurring between Ms. Hannah-Jones as reporter or even social commentator and Ms. Hannah-Jones as, not just a participant in the unfolding events, but someone who was using a platform uniquely hers to advocate for certain outcomes. The piece becomes part of the story. And, for the record, I make these observations as someone who agrees with every conclusion she makes.

  • SongBirdNYC

    She interviewed at least two other P.S. 8 families and left out 99% of it.

  • FoodArtforKids.com

    Yes – she said. Still, I was expecting an entirely different story. I think I mentioned to you how I did not sing “her” song…

  • joey_c

    in what way?

  • joey_c

    what really stood out for me and continues to do so is the horrid behavior of some of the current and prospective p.s. 8 parents, from the whingers at the public meetings making spurious complaints about safety to the “well, you can switch us to p.s. 307 but only if all our kids are in a segregated class with each other” parents to the people saying they’ll take their kids out of public school rather than send them to 307. ugh.

    also, carmen farina did not cover herself in glory.

  • Slyone

    I’m curious about that, too (the segregated class idea). I’ve heard people repeat that happened secondhand (and read it the same way), but I have never seen it sourced, and I try to retain an appropriate level of skepticism about anything for which I don’t have clear sourcing.

    FWIW, I’ve been hearing more positive reactions from parents as of late who are choosing PS307 for their kids next year. It’s anecdotal and small-scale, but I think the school has been doing a good job at getting word out to an even larger cross-section of Brooklyn about how and why it’s a strong school.

  • Concerned

    WHAT!?! Why is is that parents aren’t allowed to fear for the safety and education of their children!?!
    Let’s just assume that PS 307 is a “good” school, despite their horrendous test scores. Let’s also assume that PS 307 is a safe school to attend. Even conceding these two big issues (only for the sake of this hypothetical), PS 307 is still across the street from the Farragut Houses, a project that has crime in and around it and where many of the residents live in fear. Children will have to walk in and around these projects to get to school. Someone was just shot and killed on the corner of Sands & Gold, one block from PS 307, last week. And a shooting/killing in the Farragut projects is NOT uncommon.
    So excuse me if I don’t want my child having to walk EVERYDAY to school and back, through an area where bullets fly and crime is a major problem!!!

  • joey_c

    i am most certainly not going to excuse you.

    1. nyc is the safest big city in the country.

    2. nyc is enjoying historic lows in crime (with 2016 being even better than prior years on shootings and murders)
    3. all you have to make your case is anecdata.

    4. yet you still assert that ps 307 is unsafe in the absence of compelling data.

    5. the demographics of the farragut houses differ significantly from those of the heights and dumbo.

    inference from these facts: your real problem is based on demographics, not safety; you assume that minorities will endanger your children. it’s a pretty lamentable mentality.

    also, re: test scores, even as someone who always killed standardized tests and owes a degree of his success to the importance placed on them, judging schools based on them is often silly, especially when the student bodies are not comparable.

  • Concerned

    1. You: NYC is the safest big city in the country. Me: Ok, and did you know that while the city gets safer, NYCHA houses are actually seeing spikes in crime?
    2. You: NYC historic lows in crime…blah blah… Me: Ibid.
    3. You: all I have to make my case is anecdata. Me: Wrong. Google “Farragut houses and crime” and see all the crime, shootings, etc… from THE NEWS. What standard are you attempting to hold me to? Do I have to see every shooting first person?
    4. You: yet I still assert PS 307 isn’t safe… Me: Actually, in my hypothetical, I assumed PS 307 is safe. I didn’t assume that the route to and neighborhood around PS 307 was safe…BECAUSE IT’S NOT!!!
    5. You: the demographics differ. Me: Yes, the demographics DO differ. But the statistics I’m looking at are the crime statistics in regards to safety. Why are you looking at demographic info again? Oh, that’s right, because you have an agenda to attempt to call everyone racist who reasonably fears for their child’s safety in a dangerous area. Plus, racism is ALL you have.
    6. You: standardized test scores aren’t important. Me: Oh, I’m glad you feel that way. So do you have a way for my child to get a scholarship to college outside of standardized test scores?

    joey_c, you live in a dream world. I hope that you’re smart and clever, there. Because in the real world, your arguments are way off the mark, you make terrible assumptions about people without even knowing them, and you have a closed mind that only looks towards racism. Good day.

  • joey_c

    it’s from the nytimes piece, “David Goldsmith, who later became president of the community education
    council tasked with considering the rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307.
    Goldsmith is white and, at the time, lived in Vinegar Hill with his
    Filipino wife and their daughter…

    Then, Goldsmith says, the new parents started seeking to separate their
    children from their poorer classmates. “There were kids in the school
    that were really high-risk kids, kids who were homeless, living in
    temporary shelters, you know, poverty can be really brutal,” Goldsmith
    says. “The school was really committed to helping all children, but we
    had white middle-class parents saying, ‘I don’t want my child in the
    same class with the kid who has emotional issues.’ ””

    as for 307’s message, it apparently hasn’t gotten through to this other pearl-clutching person replying to me about how the projects are deadly.

  • joey_c

    1, 2, & 3: that scaremongering article from over two years ago you linked to included the actual data for farragut. zero shootings, and zero murders. apparently the standard of internal consistency is too much of a standard for you to be held to.

    4. the data don’t support this assertion. since you so love anecdata, i can tell you that personally, i somehow managed to live around the corner from lafayette gardens projects and walked past them every day for 3 years without incident.

    5. i don’t have an agenda. your fear is unreasonable, as your own single citation proves, and that’s why demographics come into it. you can try to pretend that’s not the issue all you want.

    6. actually what i said was that judging a *school* on the basis of the test scores of its individuals is silly. your kid can do well on college entrance tests despite attending an elementary school that has poor average standardized test scores.

    the reason that you get so heated about this is because you fear to really examine your own reasoning and go beyond your rationalizations. i get the impression you didn’t actually read the ny times piece in question, so here’s the ‘graph that most relates to you:

    ‘ While suburban parents, who are mostly white, say they are selecting schools based on test scores, the racial makeup of a school actually plays a larger role in their school decisions, according to a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Education. Amy Stuart Wells, a
    professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, found the same thing when she studied how white parents choose schools in New York City. “In a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building,” Wells told me. “We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’ It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.” ‘

    you want to keep this system intact, and make sure that your kid doesn’t have to help integrate a school that features concentrated poverty.

  • StudioBrooklyn

    How do you respond to Concerned’s concerns concerning the concern of walking children daily through a potentially dangerous neighborhood? I don’t have any recent anecdotes but last I heard (a decade or so ago) passersby were susceptible to a higher than normal chance of encountering violence near the Farragut Houses: muggings, etc.

    (For the record, I favor solving the PS8 overflow problem by utilizing what I’ve heard are PS307’s excellent amenities and staff, and roundly dislike the notion of using test scores as any metric except by which to measure the uselessness of test scores. I’ve also heard that a lot of the anti-integration sentiment has come from PS307 parents who fear it will cost their school its special funding–another argument, I’d say, in favor of funding PK-12 education on a federal level.)

  • Concerned

    Like I said, you live in a dream world. The Farragut houses are NOT a nice place. Someone was just murdered there in broad day light last week. On a street corner a block from PS 307. You can keep pretending that they are a nice place and even give your own experience (anecdote anyone?), but it won’t make it true.
    I’m not sure where you get that there are no shootings there. Do you not know how to google?



    I’m sure there are plenty more. Once again…Google.

    You can try to pretend that my want to not have my kid walk to school in a dangerous place is racism. That’s your right, but it’s insulting and stupid. You don’t even know if I’m black, hispanic, arabic, white, or native american!!!

    You say I want to “keep this system intact”. No. I just want my children going to a school in a safe area. And I don’t appreciate some study or Columbia professor (or some guy/girl named “joey_c”) calling me a racist for it.

  • StudioBrooklyn

    By the way, Concerned is alright. His tone can sound like the inside of an old oyster sometimes with all the pearl-clutching but I wouldn’t take it personally. His intentions are legit.

  • Concerned

    LOL. Thank you. I always make a point of looking within to my true motivations while indenting grandma’s pearls with my fingerprints…

  • StudioBrooklyn

    Above, where you said “LOL to everything you said” I actually chuckled aloud reading. In terms of online comment thread parlance that is just pure gold.

  • Concerned

    That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!
    Chalk it up to too much coffee at lunch…

  • FoodArtforKids.com

    I expected it to be either more personal or not personal at all.

  • Slyone

    David Goldsmith was talking about PS8 back a decade and change ago, not families being rezoned to 307 now. I haven’t seen sourcing for the latter.

  • Slyone

    I’ve read the stories about the Farragut Houses, and I think safety is a fair thing to consider. I would just add that I run from Brooklyn Heights through the grounds of the Farragut Houses on spring and summer weekends sometimes (when running through BBP is too much of a pain with the crowds); I loop through en route to the Admiral’s House and Vinegar Hill, then back — it’s a nice, not-too-long run. As a result, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing their several garden planters mature across the season, and talked to a guy who helps maintain plots for several residents — he’s a wealth of knowledge.

  • Concerned

    Slyone, I think that’s great. And I have ZERO intent in trying paint a picture of the Farragut houses as a war zone or a place where the majority of people are not great people. These great people are everyday victims (whether by fear of crime or actual crime) of the very small percentage of criminals that are pervasive in the houses. If I could change it for them, I would.

  • joey_c

    if so, I stand corrected.

  • joey_c

    1. “I’m not sure where you get that there are no shootings there.”
    that’s funny, because you linked me to it: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/nycha-residents-live-fear-major-crimes-public-housing-soar-article-1.1747195 has an interactive graphic where you can change the crimes. it shows 1 shooting and zero murders for farragut. your own link makes the case against your assertion.

    2. as for googling individual incidents, the problem with that is there’s no way to validly conclude that such incidents represent an area that’s less safe than, say, dumbo without a much more detailed analysis.

    3. the data that we do have, which i cited initially, demonstrates that crime is steadily decreasing even as you worry and fret about it. people somehow brought up kids here in the 80s and 90s when the murder rate was tons higher. your fears are overblown and unwarranted. farragut right now is safer than anywhere in the city was in 1990. the problem is that humans are bad at accurately assessing risk, and so the few incidents that you have read about take on an outsize importance in your evaluation of the situation and help bring you to this erroneous conclusion.

    4. the reason why i suspect that you are not a minority is because you keep insisting that things are not safe when the facts don’t align with that assertion. you refuse to look at the situation rationally and insist that the area with a high minority concentration is too dangerous for your kids to walk past. that’s pretty suggestive to me.

  • joey_c

    “How do you respond to Concerned’s concerns concerning the concern”

    not sure if this was on purpose…

    anyway, you can see my response above. in short, i think he is mistaken about the actual level of risk, and that part of the reason why he holds this misconception so tightly is due to demographics.

    i think that walking by the projects is not some outlandish risk factor. all the kids who already go to 307 do it daily. i personally have done it in clinton hill and red hook.

    moreover, i think that in light of the entire city’s unprecedented degree of safety, worries like this are just not rational. which is par for the course with kids, people become irrational when it comes to their children. but i’m with the times author, and with professor wells, who i quoted above.

  • StudioBrooklyn

    “not sure if this was on purpose”

    I try to produce high quality internet content whenever possible.

    It sounds like for the most part we’re running into a battle of the anecdotal evidences here, with the exception that you also make a case for the overall safety of the city* and the point that kids who live in that area already walk by the Farragut Houses regularly to and from school. I wonder how their parents would respond…it’s a shame they don’t have a voice here too.

    *My meager understanding of socioeconomics points to the possibility that when a statistical average of, say, well-being goes up within a population that includes the very rich and the very poor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that well-being has gone up for each of those groups. In fact, the opposite may be true: the safety statistics we’re seeing might be influenced by the gentrification of neighborhoods like Bushwick, and if the turnaround in those areas is great enough it can statistically conceal an increase in unsafety in other places (like housing projects).