A standing ovation greeted Pastor Mark V. C. Taylor’s words on Wednesday night at a packed and lively meeting in Brooklyn concerning a New York City Department of Education proposal.
“We need to postpone this plan. We need at least two years to sit down and deal with these very real racial and cultural tensions and see if we can come up with something that can be a model for a country that is struggling to figure out if all lives really do matter,” Taylor stormed.
The controversial plan Taylor railed against is something that has recently upset two groups of Brooklyn parents. The tension stems from a proposed school district rezoning that involves a rich, predominately White school and a low-income, Black school.
It’s a scenario that has played out many times all over the country for decades, but this story has a twist: It’s the students from the overcrowded White school who would be bussed to the under-capacity Black school and parents from both communities have expressed concerns.
PS. 8 Robert Fulton, situated in the tony Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that sits on the East River and serves as a gateway to the borough, has experienced such tremendous residential growth over the years that the school is operating at 143% building capacity, according to the Department of Education’s Office of District Planning. However P.S. 307 Daniel Hale Williams (along with the 71-student satellite middle school in its building) is operating at 58% building capacity and is located directly across the street from the Farragut Houses, a 10-tower public housing.
Even with an annex completed in 2011 to help alleviate overcrowding at P.S. 8, the school still operates over capacity and with a waiting list. And although P.S. 8 students fare well in standardized testing (86% passing rate for third graders on state tests in 2012), pre-kindergarten and language courses have been eliminated due to space and resources stretched to the maximum. P.S. 307, meanwhile, has lower test scores (15% passing rate for third graders on state tests in 2012), but it is also a magnet STEM school that offers courses in Mandarin, violin, chess and it has a pre-kindergarten.
The DOE’s solution to P.S. 8’s overcrowding is to re-zone the school districts so that children from P.S. 8 can attend P.S. 307. The problem is that parents from both of the schools’ very active Parent Teacher Associations have expressed concerns about the timing of the process and what they characterize as a lack of proper communication and outreach. Parents became aware of the rezoning plan in early September, Wednesday night’s meeting was the third public gathering for the topic. The first two meetings generated a slew of articles centered on the racial undertones of some of the parents’ concerns. The DOE intends to submit its final rezoning plan to the Community Education Council next week after which time, the CEC will have 45 days to vote on the matter. If approved the rezoning would be implemented in the 2016-2017 school year.
Author and City College of New York professor Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy told EBONY.com that he thinks Brooklyn’s rezoning situation is emblematic of education policy in this country in general and he expressed his thoughts on what could or should have been done differently to create a better process.
“On one hand it’s inevitable that there will be tension when it comes to any subject involving race and education. However, there are better ways to incorporate community vision and in this situation it seems that neither community was consulted,” said Dr. Lewis-McCoy. “They should create a process to develop community buy-in. If they had to do it all over again, they should present the general issue (not a complete plan) at community halls with input from all stakeholders, then talk to PTAs and then work together on brokering a plan.”
At the CEC meeting held at P.S. 307, parents from all over District 13, including the two in question, had comments and questions about the DOE’s presentation and process.
Amy Shire, a P.S. 8 parent and a CEC member, praised the DOE for the notion of creating an Implementation Taskforce should the rezoning garner approval, but still had criticism about the current process.
“I think the taskforce is a wonderful idea. I only wish something like that had occurred about six months ago. The process that got us here was terribly flawed,” said Shire. “The plan has a lot of merit on the face of it and I see so much potential for both schools should this plan go through. However, it is critically important that if a rezoning happens, nobody walks away from the table.”
State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district encompasses both schools, echoed Shire’s disappointment in the DOE’s handling of the process, but with harsher word choice.
“This situation has been handled so poorly by DOE. To compound this terrible planning, actually no planning, with insufficient information…and a disrespectful lack of sensitivity to the inevitable concerns of the students and parents,” he said.
City Councilman Stephen Levin apologized for his role in not informing the community of the proposal. Several other elected officials (or their representatives) attended the meeting and noted issues with DOE’s rollout of the rezoning plan.
The P.S. 8 PTA representative asked that the CEC approve the rezoning and she noted the strong relationship the two schools’ PTAs have. Faraji Hannah Jones, co-president of P.S. 307 PTA, expressed concerns about the timing of the plan. “I’m going to keep advocating for my people here in this community. We need more time. Forty five days and three months and pictures with numbers and arrows are not going to do it,” said Hannah Jones before he ceded his time to the afore-mentioned Pastor Mark V. C. Jones who laid out seven reasons why he was against the rezoning.
Parents in the audience brought up topics such as why there aren’t better monetary commitments to school building/enhancement initiatives from developers who are building the residential developments causing the overcrowding. The DOE press office told EBONY.com that it is working with the CEC to collect feedback and ensure all of the families’ concerns are heard.
Demetria Irwin is a New York City-based (Detroit born) freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope and connect with her on Facebook.