Last Monday, on Martin Luther King Day, as we recommitted to fighting for Dr. King’s dream, I was struck especially by these words:
“Let us be dissatisfied until the dark yesterdays of segregated schools will be transformed into the bright tomorrows of quality integrated education. Let us be dissatisfied until integration is not seen as a problem but as an opportunity to participate in the beauty of diversity.” (Where Do We Go From Here, 1967)
Unfortunately, the “dark yesterdays of segregated schools” are still today across most of Community School District 15. We live in a diverse district, stretching from Park Slope to Sunset Park, from Red Hook to Carroll Gardens to Windsor Terrace. And there are some bright spots for sure, where educators, parents, and students have created vibrant, excellent, integrated schools. Still, at the district-level, our schools remain highly segregated. The data shows it. And we know it.
So we should be dissatisfied. But we should not stop there. We have an opportunity to do something about it -- at a district-wide level -- starting with our middle schools.
For the past five years, inspired by a growing coalition of advocates and students, I have been pushing the NYC Department of Education to take stronger action to confront school segregation -- both citywide, and right here in District 15.
Earlier this year, the DOE finally issued “Equity & Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools,” a plan for community engagement in fostering school diversity. In many ways, Dr. King would think the plan was weak tea. It does not even use the words “segregation” or “integration” (preferring the anodyne “diversity”). But it does offer community school districts the opportunity to step up.
This week, the DOE announced that District 15 will be one of the first school districts with the chance to take responsibility to integrate our schools (District 1 on the Lower East Side/Chinatown was the first; you can read about their plan here).
For the remainder of the 2017-2018 school year, the DOE will work alongside the community to develop a District 15 middle school “diversity plan” by the end of the school year.
So we now have a real opportunity to develop and implement concrete steps to reduce school segregation and develop high-quality, integrated learning environments in all our middle schools. This will require hard, honest conversations across lines of difference, about race and inequality and education, about how we got here, what we want, and what we are willing to do.
The public process kicks off next month. I really hope you will join the conversation:
D15 Middle School Diversity Plan
Public Workshop #1 - Introduction
February 13, 2018, 6:30-8:30pm
Sunset Park High School
153 35th Street
The work will be led by a diverse set of D15 community stakeholders in a working group, and staffed by the planning firm WXY Studio, to guide the planning process and to help ensure inclusivity and accessibility. The working group includes District 15 school leaders and staff, CBO representatives, parents and a DOE central staff member. They will meet throughout the school year, and lead four public workshops and a series of listening tours at District 15 schools. With the support of the DOE and WXY, the working group will be responsible for developing and presenting a middle school diversity plan, with input from the broader community, by the end of this school year.
You can also stay in the loop about the D15 diversity plan process here: http://d15diversityplan.com/.
A Spanish and Mandarin version of the website will be up soon. If you have questions or comments for my office regarding school integration, please reach out to Vicki Sell email@example.com or 718-499-1090.
While it has taken longer than we wanted, I’m grateful to the DOE for moving forward with this work, and setting up a thoughtful process of community engagement. Given decades of inaction, integrating our schools will require real commitment. If we seize this moment, we have a real opportunity, in Dr. King’s words, “to achieve the bright tomorrows of quality integrated education” for all our kids.
If we seize this moment, we might be able to read his words differently next MLK Day. As the 50th anniversary of his death approaches, what could be a better way to honor his legacy and work seriously to fulfill his dream? What could be more important – for our kids, or our democracy?