Achieving Diversity

What diverse schools do differently: New report outlines 10 promising approaches

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

With a rezoning debate barely settled in Brooklyn — and another still raging on the Upper West Side — New York City has been forced to reckon with the fact that many of its schools are deeply segregated.

But it’s worth remembering that there are success stories in our midst, schools that have taken deliberate steps to enroll a diversity of students, creating “Integrated Schools in a Segregated City.”

That’s the name of a report released Wednesday by the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs, where staff at the school-review site Insideschools spent a year uncovering lessons from local schools that are tackling segregation.

The findings, released ahead of a forum to discuss integration, highlight 10 strategies that have already shown promise in New York City. Here are a few of them.

School has to be welcoming for everyone

Schools that successfully enroll a mix of students also manage to create a climate that welcomes everyone, the report notes.

P.S. 312 in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn — home to families from Russia, Haiti, Korea and beyond — invites families to visit and talk about their cultures and share traditional foods. That has helped build relationships between parents, and while more minority students have enrolled in the school in recent years, the report says, it hasn’t experienced “the rapid white flight that schools in neighboring Canarsie witnessed some 30 years ago.”

Sometimes, maintaining diversity takes leadership from the top. The report found that the principal at P.S. 261 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, helped set an inclusive tone by encouraging the PTA to reach out to parents of color for the school’s annual fundraiser.

Other times, parents themselves play an important role. At P.S. 11 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, the diverse PTA leads school tours for prospective families.

“Since the PTA represents just about every race and ethnic group imaginable, visiting parents are likely to see someone who looks like them as a tour leader, and the tour leaders are great ambassadors for their school,” the report notes.

Change can be good

Whether it’s a new school in an old building, or an existing school in a new space — a change of scenery can attract more families of all kinds.

“Parents are more willing to take a chance on a new school with no track record than with an old school with a long history of low performance and poor discipline,” the authors say.

Closing a school is often unpopular, and it doesn’t always work, they acknowledge. But “it’s way easier to start a school from scratch with a new principal, new staff, and new kids than to turn around an existing school with a longstanding bad reputation.”

In other cases, change happens inside the classroom. P.S. 84 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn enrolled a more diverse mix of students after overhauling its curriculum, starting new programs and moving away from “scripted lessons” that emphasized basic skills.

Similarly, implementing gifted or dual-language programs can attract more middle-class and language-diverse families, though those programs can themselves become segregated. The report points to P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a school with integrated gifted and dual-language programs.

Different admissions policies can help

Schools that accept students from outside regular zone lines, such as AmPark Neighborhood School in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, may attract students of different backgrounds, the report notes.

The Hellenic Classical Charter School in Sunset Park, Brooklyn is another example. Though it grew out of a Greek-Orthodox parochial school, demographic changes have resulted in a student body where few are of Greek heritage.

“Other cultures are celebrated, too. Each classroom studies a different country in preparation for the school’s multicultural fair; Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are important holidays,” the report notes.

New admissions policies have also shown moderate success. The city Department of Education has allowed some schools to set aside seats for students who are low-income, learning English or who meet other criteria. So far, such “Diversity in Admissions” plans have been approved at 19 schools, and are seen as a way to preserve diversity in gentrifying neighborhoods.

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.”