For the first time since Downtown Brooklyn's Community Education Council 13 voted to zone incoming DUMBO kindergarten students out of predominantly white, upper-middle-class PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights and into PS 307—a school that primarily serves black residents of the NYCHA-run Farragut Houses on York Street—Department of Education officials met with community members and the principals of both schools last week to discuss next steps.
"Part of how PS 8 grew and became a school of choice that people buy buildings to get close to is parents rolling up their sleeves and doing something," said Office of District Planning representative Meg Barboza on Thursday.
Overcrowding has been an issue at PS 8 since the late 2000s thanks to its high test scores, and the robust real estate development in downtown Brooklyn. Black and Hispanic students currently represent 34% of PS 8's student body, while PS 307, which has historically performed lower on state tests, is 95% minority.
The rezoning plan offered by the Department of Education last fall impacts kindergarten and Pre-K students for the coming 2016-2017 school year. There was considerable pushback from both communities when the plan was first presented—some DUMBO parents resisted the move to a school with lower test scores; some Farragut parents argued that the plan overlooked "obvious racial tensions," and could reverse their efforts to focus on the unique needs of minority students.
"We don't want any galloping knights coming in here and trying to change the image," said Benjamin Greene, PS 307 PTA Co-President. "We want to make sure that PS 307 is not going to be this Fortune 500 school in two or three years."
According to ODP data, PS 8 is currently at 135% capacity. The school has already accepted 125 kindergarten students for next year, with just one student on the wait list; PS 307 has sent out 66 offers to prospective students (the DOE could not confirm how many of those students have accepted their offers). For comparison, the current PS 307 zone has about 19 kindergarten-age students.
PS 307 Principal Stephanie Carroll spoke at length on Thursday, running down a list of projects she's taken on since January to prepare for the additional students. The school has partnered with New York Appleseed, a nonprofit that partners with City College professors to ease the integration process at racially segregated schools. Starting this month, she'll invite neighborhood parents and potential pre-K students into the school for mommy-and-me activities.
The school also has a new website. "It's been described to me as clean and crisp," Carroll said proudly, adding, "It's getting [us] out of this image of being tucked away."
"I always said that if this passed, 307 would have the most amount of work to do," PS 8 Principal Seth Phillips told the group. "The biggest thing we've been able to do [since the rezoning passed] is get refocused on kids, and [focus] less on the wait list."
The DOE praised Carroll's efforts, and encouraged her and the PS 307 PTA to look to PS 8 as an example. In the early 2000s, the school was under enrolled, primarily serving students from the Farragut houses. Then Brooklyn Heights parents dug in their heels to promote the school. In 2005, Madonna visited in stilettos to read one of her children's books. By 2008, PS 8 was packed to the gills.
Superintendent Barbara Freeman encouraged PS 307 to think of the task ahead—preparing for an influx of new students—as a "rebranding" process. "Rebranding doesn't mean that everything we did before was bad," she said.
But PS 307 PTA Co-President Faraji Hannah-Jones expressed concern that the process to date has not been inclusive of his school's parent community. While meetings attended by school administrators, the DOE, and a handful of vocal community members are a good step, he said, the parent community at PS 307 still feels uninformed about planned changes for the school.
"When those affluent parents come in, we do not want to alienate the parents who live across the street in the Farragut houses," he said on Thursday. Instead, he's eager to establish programing at the school that caters specifically to the Farragut community—like GED and computer literacy classes for parents. "That's how we rebrand," he said.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this story misstated the current kindergarten class sizes at PS 8 and PS 307.