Brooklyn parent leaders look for political support on school diversity

Elected parent leaders in District 15 presented a resolution Thursday that called on City Council members and the Department of Education to prioritize diversity in schools.

A group of parents in Brooklyn’s District 15 are calling on the city to make school diversity a new priority.

Frustrated by statistics that show decreasing diversity in their district’s schools, and enrollment policies they see as unfair to their own children, some parents, principals and teachers said they wanted to see change at a two-hour forum on Thursday. But the more than 100 participants came to few firm conclusions about the kind of diversity they want, and who is responsible for creating it.

The lack of specifics illustrates a central problem in tackling admissions and enrollment policies: making change involves navigating a tangled web of parent preferences, city policies and longstanding district boundaries.

On Thursday, the district’s elected parent leaders called on City Council members to require the Department of Education to make clear commitments to school diversity. The resolution, which the Community Education Council introduced but didn’t vote on, asks the department to develop admissions plans for new schools that prioritize diversity and to require schools to regularly release data on their diversity.

The resolution, which comes a few months after a UCLA analysis of federal education data said that New York state was home to the nation’s most segregated schools, broadens discussions about school integration that have been happening at individual schools throughout the district, including P.S. 133 and Park Slope Collegiate. But advocates said they are now looking to attract wider support.

At the forum, parents disagreed on what factors should be considered when trying to increase school diversity, with some attendees asking why the resolution did not mention race specifically. The resolution also focuses on policies for new schools, rather than reworking policies at existing schools.

City education leaders did address school diversity a few weeks ago on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision, and State Education Commissioner John King recently called out the city for its enrollment policies, which he said left neighboring schools serving dramatically different populations of students.

But at a recent town hall meeting in District 15, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that discussions about diversity should take place school by school, for now. She also said that the city is working on increasing diversity in specialized high schools, and said the city was “disappointedin the results of the recent school segregation analysis on the anniversary of Brown v. Board.

Nalia Rosario, president of the district’s Community Education Council, said it was time for City Council members to call for specific commitments from the Department of Education.

“This is when the elected officials come in,” Rosario said.

City Council member Brad Lander, who represents Park Slope and co-hosted the forum with City Council member Carlos Menchaca, agreed that change would be welcome, but said that more local conversations were needed before elected officials could move forward.

After the meeting, Lander said he is drafting a bill that would require schools to put together annual diversity progress reports. He noted that the resolution’s calls for new schools to prioritize diversity was especially important, since the city’s capital budget includes funding for three new District 15 schools in the next five years.

City Council members Carlos Menchaca (left) and Brad Lander hosted a parents forum to discuss diversity in schools on Thursday.
PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
City Council members Carlos Menchaca (left) and Brad Lander hosted a parents forum to discuss diversity in schools on Thursday.

“We don’t have an admissions process or a line-drawing process which says diversity has to be a central question when we create a new school,” Lander said.

David Tipson, director of New York Appleseed, a nonprofit that was influential in creating a diversity-focused admissions policy at P.S. 133, an elementary school in District 15, said the conversation showed that some parents were willing to look beyond zoning policies that have benefitted them.

“For this to happen in District 15, where people really value their zone privileges, it shows a lot of courage and leadership from the CEC and from the elected officials,” he said.

Another challenge facing parents who want to see school diversity improve is that schools don’t have a lot of control over their own admissions processes. P.S. 133 was given specific permission to draw students from its own district and District 13 in an attempt to engineer above-average diversity.

Some parents noted that increasing school diversity also means making sure schools have the resources to offer programs attractive enough to reduce the fierce competition for a few of the most well-regarded schools.

“Every parent wants the best for their kids,” said P.S./M.S. 282 parent Corinne Frinnah. “And every parent here would like to see diversity.”

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.