Nearly one semester after the city implemented a rezoning plan in Brooklyn that garnered widespread attention as a litmus test for integration, Department of Education data shows that one of the two schools it targeted has not seen a significant change in composition.
Back in January, an elected group of parents voted to carve incoming kindergarten and pre-k parents living in DUMBO out of PS 8—a predominantly white upper-middle-class school in Brooklyn Heights. The goal was to eliminate a kindergarten wait-list at PS 8, while increasing enrollment at nearby PS 307 in Vinegar Hill, a small school that serves mostly low-income black and Latino children.
The plan was immediately controversial. Some DUMBO parents expressed concern about PS 307's location—it's across the street from the NYCHA-run Farragut Houses—and about its history of low test scores. And some Farragut parents argued that the plan overlooked "obvious racial tensions," and could reverse their efforts to focus on the needs of minority students.
At the time, the DOE said it didn't expect immediate change at PS 307: either a spike in overall enrollment, or a dramatic increase in white students. "The at-scale impact of this rezoning will take place after several years," DOE spokesman Will Mantell reiterated this month.
So far, there hasn't been a large shift in demographics at PS 307 in the grades impacted by the rezoning. Last school year, there were 10 white students out of 36 students in 307's pre-k and fewer than 10 out of 69 students in kindergarten. (For privacy reasons, the DOE reports single-digit populations as "under 10.") Preliminary DOE data from this year shows that as of October 31, there were fewer than 10 white students out of 47 in the pre-k class and fewer than 10 out of 58 in the kindergarten.
Education experts said it's difficult to draw conclusions from the new data. "These aren't big numbers to begin with, so it's hard to say what's a meaningful decrease or increase," said Adriana Villavicencio, deputy director at NYU's Research Alliance for New York City Schools. "I wouldn't hang my hat on anything quite yet."
(Emma Whitford / Gothamist)
The waitlist at PS 8, meanwhile, has been eliminated. The kindergarten class has 115 students, according to the DOE (PS 8 does not have a pre-k program). It is unclear how many students zoned out of PS 8 went to 307 and how many chose some alternative. The DOE pointed out that DUMBO pre-k parents have another new option this year at Dock Street.
Halley Potter, a fellow with the Century Foundation who studies diversity in pre-k, said further integration of PS 307 will depend, in part, on how DUMBO parents feel this first year of rezoning went. "If the community perceives a pretty successful first year for families that are new to 307, and word spreads, you might see next year an uptick in newly-zoned parents opting to attend," she said. "If the lines are redrawn but the families newly zoned to 307 simply aren't opting to attend, then that would suggest that there is a lot more work to be done."
DUMBO resident and PS 307 mother Eliza Porter, who is white, said she thinks parents in her neighborhood are warming to the school. "The buzz that I'm hearing from families a little bit younger is at least go tour it,” Porter said. "Go look at it first before you make any decisions. Because touring it could change the biases that you have based on its location."
"If parents' experiences are positive, the word spreads," said David Goldsmith, president of Community Education Council 13, which voted on the rezoning last fall. His daughter attended PS 8 in the early 2000s, when it had a similar demographic to PS 307. "I remember a time when we had to beg people to go to PS 8, and people were saying, 'No, no, no,' and five years later people were saying, 'Don't you have some kind of in?'"
"We recognize and value the importance of continuing to engage families throughout this process," said Mantell, the DOE spokesman. PS 307 Principal Stephanie Carroll has brought in a Teachers College program called The Public Good, intended to help teachers and parents ease the transition to a more racially diverse student body. Earlier this spring, Carroll outlined her efforts to draw more students to the school, including meet-ups for incoming pre-k students and a more navigable website.
Kadesha Brimby, a black resident of the Farragut Houses and PS 307 alum, said she had conflicting feelings. "It's nice to see new faces, but don't forget about the old faces," she said. "Don't put all your priorities into what's going in."