getting in

McCourt HS planners hunt for the perfect admissions policy

Hoping to bring a diverse mix of students to a new Upper West Side high school, parents and neighborhood activists are jumping at the chance to write rewrite its admissions rules.

Frank McCourt High School, which will have a writing and communications focus, is highly anticipated by middle and upper-middle class families on the Upper West Side who want a selective school close to home. But McCourt is also one of the small schools replacing Brandeis High School, a large school that has served needy students from Harlem. Some advocates fear these students will be displaced as the school phases out.

The challenge, those who’ve been involved in the school’s development say, is building a school that attracts both sets of students.

“You can’t change the quality of the program and not offer it to the same kids who have always gone to Brandeis High School; it’s a cruel joke,” said Michelle Fine, a professor of urban education at the City University of New York.

Fine is part of a group of parents, activists and academics who arrived at a meeting for the school on Tuesday night armed with ideas for a new kind of admissions policy that they say will not give preference to either set of students.

Fine and several neighborhood parents have spent the past few months working on a draft vision statement outlining a proposed admissions strategy. Chief among their suggestions is that a writing sample carry significant weight in the school’s admissions.

Fine said the goal would be to find students with “a spark for writing,” but that an admissions committee must consider students with talents for writing in a variety of forms. “So we’d be looking for students who do scientific writings and journalism as well as students who write poetry and hip-hop,” she said.

Equally important, Fine said, is that applicants be judged on a range of criteria, with no one standard like test scores trumping all others. Fine said that rather than admitting all students who score above a certain bar on a numerical scale, students could be considered in a more holistic fashion.

Donna Nevel, an Upper West Side parent and advocate at the Center for Immigrant Families, emphasized that an equitable and inclusive admissions process was just one part of a plan for building a diverse school. A plan for recruiting students from the neighborhoods that Brandeis High School historically served is also crucial, she said.

“You need both,” she said. “If you do the outreach, but admissions policy isn’t equitable, then the kids don’t get in. And if you have the policy but not the outreach, then you don’t get the applicants that you’re looking for.”

Nevel stressed that school planners and activists need to ensure that once a successful admissions process is created, it stays that way over time.

“We have all seen schools that begin in a positive way and, before too long, end up privileging white, upper income families over others,” Nevel said.

City Councilwoman Gale Brewer, who organized this weeks’ school planning meeting, said that she was gratified that the school’s principal, Danielle Salzberg, attended and jumped into the conversation about what the student body should look like. In an interview last month, Salzberg said that she was eager to incorporate community feedback into the school’s planning and was already working on ways of getting neighborhood groups involved in outreach.

Ultimately, the design of the school’s admissions process will be up to Salzberg, said DOE spokesman Will Havemann. Brewer said that neighborhood activists and elected officials are still working with the DOE to determinze the size of the school and whether or not admissions preference will be given to students who live on the Upper West Side.

Meanwhile, word of the school is spreading. Several members of the summer planning committee reported fielding phone calls from parents asking how their children can apply.

“There’s just a real buzz around this school, which makes me happy,” Brewer said. “I heard students leaving the meeting saying, ‘I want to go to McCourt. I want to go to McCourt.'”

Havemann said that students can apply to McCourt during the second round of the high school admissions process. Students who apply and are accepted to other selective schools in the first round will not be forced to commit to another school before hearing from McCourt, he said.

The next meeting on Frank McCourt High School is a space utilization hearing at Brandeis, scheduled for December 8, Brewer said. The Panel on Educational Policy will then have to grant the final approval for the school to open on the Brandeis campus.


In smaller gun violence protests, hundreds of students walk out of NYC schools to mark Columbine anniversary

PHOTO: Drew Angerer
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 20: Student activists rally against gun violence at Washington Square Park, near the campus of New York University, April 20, 2018 in New York City. On the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting, student activists across the country are participating in school walkouts to demand action on gun reform. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

From Brooklyn to the Bronx, students left their classrooms Friday to protest gun violence in demonstrations that were smaller but no less than passionate than last month’s massive walkout.

This time around, school officials weren’t giving a free pass to students for skipping school to protest — the Department of Education said there could be repercussions and Chancellor Richard Carranza urged students to stay in class because “you don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

According to the Department of Education, attendance on Friday was 89.89 percent, down just slightly from Thursday’s attendance of 91.36 percent. But that number might not account for students who briefly left school to attend protests after the school day started.

The walkout was designed to protest gun violence and planned for the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Many of the demonstrators gathered in Washington Square Park for a “die-in.” But other students stayed close to home, such as the School for Global Leaders on the Lower East Side. Here are some photos and videos shared on Twitter that give a sense of the walkout’s scope in New York.


Carranza discourages student participation in Friday’s gun violence walkout — which could come with consequences

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn walked out of class in March to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for stricter gun control laws.

Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.

Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.

For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.

This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.

At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.

“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”

The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.

Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.

One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.

“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”

PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.

At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.

“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.

P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.

“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”

Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.

When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.

Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”

“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”