Starting next fall, parents of incoming kindergarten students in Brooklyn's District 23 will no longer be limited by local school zones. Their community education council voted in late November to give families the choice of applying to any school in the district, which includes Ocean Hill and Brownsville.
The vote makes District 23 the city's third to offer district-wide choice, following District 1 in Manhattan and District 7 in the South Bronx. Proponents say it opens the best schools to more families and increases competition. Critics decry the loss of the neighborhood-based school zones and worry the choice will benefit only the most active parents.
SchoolBook talked with Ervin Charles, president of Community Education Council 23, about the recent decision. He has two children attending P.S./I.S. 137 Rachel Jean Mitchell, the only school in the district to receive an A on its latest progress report. Seven schools received B's, seven got C's, and six got D's and F's. The district also has four charters: three got A's and one got a B.
Why did the council vote to make this change?
For the past couple of years parents have been more or less limited to the schools that they are able to allow their children to go to in the district. It's all limited by zone and zip code. The change that was recently voted on will give parents the opportunity and the choice to send their children to any particular school within District 23.
Your school got an A, does that mean parents are no longer guaranteed a seat in their zone?
It begins with kindergarten for the new school year 2013-14. And parents have to fill out an application process and they have three choices. In 2014-15 it will then be open for middle school choice, which is sixth grade. But may I say to parents that it's not because a school is an A school that particular year, and you are bent on sending your child to that school, you are not guaranteed that that school is going to be an A school next year. So for example if my child is at a school that is not doing pretty well, has probably a C grade, but my child is performing on a 3 or 4 level, I would not transfer my child to a particular school because it's an A school because it's not sometimes how the school performs its how we as parents educate our child and get involved in our child's education. That's what really makes a good school. Parent involvement. So parents should not look at it as this is an A school I want to send my child there or this is a C school I want to transfer my child, it's how your child is performing. That's the most important factor parents should take into consideration.
Are you hoping the city will respond to this by maybe closing the schools that parents really don't want their kids to go to, or doing things for them? Already three schools are in the process of closing in your district.
There is a lot of work that needs to be done but I don't think closing down a school or phasing out a school and bringing in another school within that school is a good idea. What the Department of Education and the mayor needs to do... is change the curriculum and invest the money to make sure the kids get a proper education. There are a lot of schools in District 23 that do not have a science room, a science lab. They do not have a computer lab. They do not have a library. And some of these things is what makes kids get excited of being educated. And when you don't have some of the resources that the Department of Education should be providing that is when a school is failing.
In District 6, in Upper Manhattan, some parents are angry about de-zoning because, they argue, they bought property based on the understanding they would have a guaranteed seat at the local school. Have you heard any of that?
You can't really compare District 6 with District 23. We haven't had any opposition. And District 23 is more or less a middle class area. So to my knowledge we haven't had or known anyone that would purchase a property just specifically so they could allow their child to go to a particular school in District 23.
According to the Department of Education, students will submit an application and list the schools in order of preference. As much as possible, students will be matched with the schools they prefer the most. How are you going to get the word out so everybody understands the process for next fall?
We're going to launch a series of open houses. We'll continue to speak to parents, educate parents and educate the community and make sure they are well aware and comfortable of the choices.
How is this going to work beyond kindergarten?
Right now we're starting off with just kindergarten and sixth grade and as time progresses the Department of Education will monitor the enrollment process.