Diversity plan aims for District 1 schools to mirror the district

An Earth School student painted a pumpkin at the E. Sixth St. school’s recent fundraiser in Tompkins Square Park. The school holds three fundraisers per year. Photo by Bob Krasner

BY LEVAR ALONZO | Lower East Side and East Village parents have long advocated for more racial inclusion in their district’s elementary schools.

On Thurs., Oct. 26, the city’s Department of Education announced it is launching a pilot program for a school-choice system aimed at increasing racial and socioeconomic diversity in schools in Community School District 1.

The pilot program, called Diversity in Admissions, is the first of its kind in New York City, and includes a Family Resource Center.  It will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

School District 1 is roughly bounded by E. 14th St., the East River, Fourth Ave. / Bowery, Delancey and Clinton Sts. Parents have always been able to choose between the district’s elementary schools. Nevertheless, often the schools are racially and socioeconomically segregrated. In fact, according to a 2014 report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, in many cases, District 1 schools are “intensely” segregrated, with only 1 percent to 10 percent white students.

“We know that all students benefit from diverse and inclusive classrooms, and District 1 is taking an important step forward with their districtwide diversity plan,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “I thank District 1 parents and community members for their leadership in advocating for more diverse schools, and I’ll be closely monitoring the impact of this diversity plan as we engage in efforts across the city.”

D.O.E. initially introduced elements of the plan in early September, and held public meetings at every District 1 school to gather family and community feedback. The feedback led to several improvements and additions to the diversity initiative.

Under the diversity program, students who qualify for free or low-cost lunches, live in temporary housing or are English Language Learners will have priority for 67 percent of the seats for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in every District 1 school. Students without those criteria will have priority for the remaining 33 percent of the seats.

“Our roots are in our communities, and as parent leaders who are able to raise our own kids in this community, this diversity plan is very important to us,” said Naomi Peña, president of Community Education Council 1, along with fellow C.E.D. members, in a press release. “We are thankful for the valuable partnership between parent leaders and the D.O.E. The D.O.E. has heard and incorporated our feedback and shown commitment to ensuring this is an equitable plan, and we are united in doing what’s best for our kids and our community.”

D.O.E. is urging District 1 families to list at least five school choices on their children’s pre-K and kindergarten applications. When they do this, according to D.O.E., families “maintain a district priority such that they are more likely to get an offer from one of their top five choices.”

On Oct. 2, D.O.E. also opened what it is calling a Family Resource Center, at P.S. 15, at 333 E. Fourth St., which is aimed at educating families about their school-choice options.

The center provides a one-stop spot for application and enrollment support and information about schools, programs and other city services available to District 1 children and families.

“Our vision is that we are the aid to community members and families,” Pena said. “The vision of the office is to help families make the best choice of school for them.”

D.O.E. hopes the initiative will create more equitable access to the district’s schools and ensure that families are equipped with the best information to allow them to list their five or more preferred school choices on their application.

“We know that we have a responsibility to teach our kids that there are people in the community who look like them and speak the language they speak, and also that there are people with different experiences,” Pena and the C.E.C. members said. “When our kids grow up and learn alongside children from diverse backgrounds, they become effective communicators with different types of people and succeed in different environments, and we know that’s really going to help them when they’re adults.”

According to D.O.E., the District 1 school diversity plan efforts grew from a Socioeconomic Integration Pilot Program, or SIPP, grant awarded by the state Education Department in 2015 for increasing socioeconomic diversity in elementary schools.

Both the District 1 Diversity in Admissions pilot program and Family Resource Center will be continually reviewed to ensure they are advancing the goals of diversity and equity in the district. This will include an evaluation of the plan’s impact at the end of the 2018 admissions cycle.