Rezoning Shows Race and Class Divide in Brooklyn Schools

When Reverend Dr. Mark V. C. Taylor of the Church of the Open Doors finished his speech on Wednesday night, the auditorium in Public School 307 filled with the sound of cheers and applause as parents from his community of Farragut in Brooklyn gave him a standing ovation.

“This is a bad plan,” he said, referring to the Department of Education’s proposal to rezone P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights in order to alleviate the current overcrowding. The Reverend, a community leader for 25 years, added, “there has not been a serious analysis of the community at P.S. 307.”

If the Community Education Council approves the plan, white financially secure children from P.S. 8 would have to attend P.S. 307, where 95% of students are black and most come from lower-income families.

In trying to satisfy the needs of P.S. 8 parents who have been complaining about overcrowding for over a year, the Department of Education has come up with a solution involving P.S. 307 without consulting its community and evaluating the impact it would have on them.

As a result, over 300 parents in Farragut have already signed a petition against the Department of Education’s proposal.

In the past decade, under the leadership of newly-retired principal Roberta Davenport, P.S. 307 went from being a school in need to becoming a source of pride for the local community; one that Jonathan Geiss‎, the Associate Director of Analytics at the Department of Education said is known as “a wonderful learning community”. Not only is P.S. 307 a Magnet school for studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, it also offers unique courses such as mandarin, chess, violin, pre-kindergarten and ASD Horizon, a program for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

This year, P.S. 307 welcomed a new principal, Stephanie Carroll. Parents said they worry that this is already a period of change and she might need more time before taking on a challenge as big as this rezoning. Carroll refused to comment.

According to Micere Keels, a professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago, it is likely that P.S. 8 parents will decide to send their children to a private or charter school and this would limit the impact of the rezoning. But the situation could be quite different if those parents chose to send their children to P.S. 307.

“If a substantial number middle and higher income families do send their kids to the school that is currently a high-poverty school,” she said, “there will definitely be numerous transition issues that need to be managed and policies that they may not currently have in terms of equitable distribution, of enrichment programs and things like that.”

At previous presentations given by the Department of Education, parents repeatedly asked how the change would affect their children’s educational experience but their questions remained unanswered. It is only after this rezoning gained national attention in the past week that the Department mentioned an “implementation task force” that would help the transition, but it remained vague on the details.
It is commonly believed that students from a higher economic class tend to perform better on tests because they have more resources outside of school. If test results rise as a result of these students coming in, P.S. 307 might not be able to allocate the same amount of in-school resources to students who don’t perform as well. Enrichment programs, for example, could become more limited because they are based on test scores.

The fact that parents from P.S. 8 tend to have a higher income, will directly impact funding opportunities for P.S. 307. Title I funding is particularly important in the community. It targets students who are at risk for homelessness and failing in school. However, it is only given in schools where more than 60% of students are eligible for free lunches. This is the case at P.S. 307 but not at P.S. 8. According to a document distributed by the Community Education Council, the rezoning “may affect [P.S. 307’s] future eligibility” for Title 1 funding.

The impact of this rezoning goes beyond students at the elementary school level. Satellite West, the Middle School that shared the building with P.S. 307, will have to move to a new location in order to accommodate the influx of P.S. 8 students. “A middle school isn’t an after-thought and it shouldn’t be an after-thought, it is an important continuity for our elementary schools” said Maggie Spillane, a member of the Community Education Council.

It was only a month ago that the Department of Education formally announced its rezoning plan for the 2016 school year. Prior to September 1st, the Farragut community was not aware of these upcoming changes. With the deadline for the Community Education Council’s decision only 45 days away, members of the P.S. 307 community who are trying to understand how the rezoning will impact them have repeatedly said the same thing: “We need more time.”