As the 2018-2019 school year came to an end last June, incoming families at East Village Community School (EVCS), a progressive Pre-K to 5th grade elementary school in New York City’s unzoned District 1 where state test scores place it at #5 in the District, received the following email from Principal Bradley Goodman (excerpted below):
(O)ur School Leadership Team met with the District 1 Superintendent and a bunch of other folks from central DOE and the D1 Community Education Council to discuss a possible solution to a challenge we have long grappled with here at our school – space….
Here’s the idea: Our school might pack up and leave our current building, and move down the block to the PS 34 building, on 12th Street between Avenues C and D. PS 34 is currently a Pre-K-8 school, but if this idea goes forward to proposal and is eventually voted up by the Panel for Education Policy, the middle school would be “truncated” and EVCS would be “merged” with PS 34 to become one school. EVCS would be the “prevailing school”, meaning we would keep our name and number, I would remain the principal, and the two staffs would be combined to serve all of the students. PS 34’s current enrollment is essentially one class per grade level – so we would become a school with three classes per grade level, Pre-K through 5….
Another very important aspect to this scenario is the way it would instantly change the demographics of both schools. PS 34 is currently nearly 100% students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and students who identify as Black or Hispanic. EVCS currently has 27% students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and 28% students who identify as Black or Hispanic. Neither of our schools are currently meeting the District targets for diversity or authentically reflecting the demographics of the communities we serve, but once merged we would.
Multiple meetings were convened to allow members of both school communities to weigh in on the proposed merger.
Multiple parents (who all asked to remain anonymous) emailed me with their reports:
I think the concept (integration) is great, I just didn’t get the sense that it’s been really thought through in terms of implementation. A parent from EVCS asked whether the water has been tested at PS 34 because it’s literally in the shadow of a big Con Ed plant. To me, it seemed like a valid question and concern, as the soil in this area has often tested poorly because it was the former gaslight district and there’s generally concern (or should be) about water fountains in schools (among other things). An African American parent was outraged by this “racist” question, and got support from applause in the auditorium. It didn’t seem like a racist comment to me, but perhaps a sad acknowledgement that schools serving mostly children in poverty are not as well scrutinized as schools in more affluent areas of the city.
The PS34 community doesn’t want to merge with EVCS and a member of CEC1 vocally opposes the merger. (One reason is PS34 parents don’t want to lose free after school daycare. And they view the merger as a take over.) Integration activists need to touch base with people they are trying to help because, when Naomi (Pena, Community Education Council 1 Director) and another CEC1 member listened to the PS34 community, Naomi said, “Maybe this isn’t the right merger for these two school communities.”
I attended two meetings in June and was a bit dismayed by both. I felt the meetings were a harbinger of the difficulties involved ahead. I think these are actually discussions that need to be had more often but the meetings felt skewed in favor of “being on the right side of history “ and “making the school look like the neighborhood”. It didn’t feel like parents were really free to air thoughts or concerns for fear they would be seen as not politically correct. It felt very strange to me – I actually think it’s great to talk about race and unspoken biases, and wish we all did this more often, but the auditorium was almost entirely white and a few Asians, and the one African American woman (I’m not sure if she was PS 34 or EVCS) seemed to be representing a whole community, which all made for a strange dynamic.
I was at the CEC1 9/25 meeting. Between 50-70 people attended, including Cynthia Nixon, whose son attends EVCS. Even (Executive Superintendent for Manhattan, Districts 1-6) Marisol Rosales was in attendance! And a representative for (District 2 City Council member) Carlina Rivera.
There is a question that the PS 34 community asked the DOE that I want to share, “Why did you let our school fail?”
The DOE could not answer the question, they stuck to the fact that the school is shrinking in enrollment which makes it either susceptible to a merger or closure. The PS 34 community didn’t care for the integration spin. They said that they like their community just the way it is.
A similar divide is happening in Brooklyn’s District 15. Integration activists there are excited about the newly unscreened middle schools, and their two, pending rezoning proposals.
But, as Chalkbeat reported:
(S)ome in the Red Hook community have said the city’s plan to keep P.S. 676’s zone lines intact puts the burden on families of color to integrate into mostly white, affluent school communities….
White, affluent families, however, are not being asked to integrate into the underperforming and undersubscribed PS 676.
According to an earlier Chalkbeat piece:
(T)he district has to focus first on making sure (PS 676) is strong enough to attract students that already live nearby — before opening up enrollment to other families….
Those who are hopeful for P.S. 676’s rebound see another possibility playing out. If the school experiences an upswing, (they) wonder whether longtime Red Hook families will be displaced to other schools…. “And then what happens to the black and brown students?…. If they want to make the school into something else, is it really going to serve the students who have been there?”
Wait? What? You mean not everyone is ecstatic about the possibility of getting to sit next to magic, high-achieving, white students and/or having the demographics of their community school drastically altered?
But… but… but… as the studies make clear, there is absolutely no other way for black and brown students to learn!
Isn’t it reassuring to know the Department of Education can’t think of any other way to improve schools for minority children except to bring in those who are already high-achieving? As this parent wrote me, “I walked away from that meeting with awareness that the integration proponents actually think integration will solve the educational woes of black & brown students. That integration is a magic pill.”
This is yet another example of the ingratitude shown when the DOE goes out of it’s way to do something nice for you people!
Any integration sceptics, in either Manhattan or Brooklyn, must be racist.
There can’t possibly be any other explanation.
Edited to add: After this post went to press, EVCS Principal Goodman sent out the following to his community:
(T)he merger of EVCS and PS/MS 34 will not be moving forward. The reasons for this change in direction are many and complicated, but mainly have to do with the fact that there was just not enough support for the idea within the PS/MS 34 community, and that the obstacles to gaining that support might be insurmountable at this time. Perhaps most importantly, the merger would have required the middle school at PS/MS 34 to “truncate” and this was considered a very significant loss for that community – a deal breaker to many at PS/MS 34. There were also the symbolic aspects of the merger that were understandably difficult for many people to accept, namely that EVCS would be coming to their building and keeping our school name, identity and leadership, while they would be losing their name and identity.