diversity push

New York state plans to use new federal education law to help integrate schools

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

New York state education officials said they want to use the new federal accountability law to encourage school integration – but have not yet decided how they might do so.

At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, they discussed incorporating integration into the state’s plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The law requires all states to determine how they will evaluate schools and support struggling ones. New York is looking to measure integration and possibly use it as an intervention in schools, according to a document released Tuesday.

“Promoting integrated school environments is a cost-effective strategy for raising student achievement for districts,” state officials wrote.

At the meeting, Deputy Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green delivered a presentation on how integration fits into the state’s plan. “Even though we’re the most racially diverse and socioeconomically diverse state in the nation, we have this existing situation in our school system,” she said, referencing a widely-cited UCLA study that found deep divisions in New York’s schools along racial lines. “ESSA is a prime place for us to really look at how we change that in our state.”

During the meeting, Infante-Green repeatedly said state officials were working on a policy statement that presents a framework for supporting integration and hoped to have it ready soon. State officials declined Chalkbeat’s request to interview Infante-Green about the details or broad direction of that framework.

“It would be premature to speculate on the specifics of the plan until the plan is fully developed,” said State Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

The state’s document says developing tools for measuring integration might be part of the effort.

“Once a method of measuring integration is selected, the measure can be employed in different ways to incentivize schools and districts to integrate,” the details state. For instance, diversity could be presented as part of a “data dashboard” used to inform the public, which may encourage less diverse schools or districts to address the problem.

Under ESSA, the state could opt to intervene directly to improve schools’ diversity. The materials do not specify how the state might do so, but did say there is no “one right way” and that state officials could encourage local school districts to adopt integration strategies.

Diversity was one part of a larger discussion the Board of Regents had about the Every Student Succeeds Act. State education officials plan to submit a draft plan to the Board of Regents in May.

Regardless of how the state chooses to include integration in its plan, it would be a significant addition. School integration has been a major subject of news — and controversy — throughout New York. In New York City, despite a strong push from advocates, efforts to integrate schools have been incremental. Even in neighborhoods with a racial and socioeconomic mix, school communities have been slow to integrate and parents are not always on board.

Though most Regents expressed support for leveraging the law to promote integration, several brought up the practical concerns posed by the project — specifically the fact that families often oppose integration.

“The problem is, really, you can’t legislate morality,” said Regent Josephine Finn. “Until we address that, the fears, I don’t know how we do this.”

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”