Thursday, January 19, 2012

Supporting Local Schools: PS 316 Prospective Parents Meet-and-Greet at The Candy Rush This Saturday (Updated)

At WNYC's MLK Day celebration at the Brooklyn Museum last Sunday, "In MLK's Footsteps: Education as a Civil Right," an event moderated by award-winning interviewers Brian Lehrer and Jami Floyd, a teacher from Brooklyn asked one of the toughest questions of the day. The panel, she noted, had covered much expected ground: urban schools today are often more segregated than they were before Brown v. Board in 1954, housing patterns and funding structures exacerbate this de facto segregation, and separate remains unequal. Her school, however, faces a slightly different problem. Located in a "good neighborhood" (Clinton Hill) that is both "improving" and increasingly "integrated" on account of neighborhood change, the school continues to educate a population that is 99% African-American and poor or working-class. How, she asked, could she convince the newly-arriving white, middle-class residents of Clinton Hill to send their children to her school? How could her high-performing public school overcome the stigma attached to NYC's school system and attract the attention of the parents and children she saw out and about in the neighborhood?

The panel didn't have a clear answer (though Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, who was impressive throughout the day, suggested that "we need to have a long, hard conversation about this in the white community ... we often say one thing and do another when it comes to public schools."), but, to be fair, no one else does. We know that parent involvement is critical to school success, but the question of how to attract middle-class investment in public schools is one of the thorniest that any school district can deal with, particularly in the context of school closures and neighborhood change. Attempts to open or co-locate charter schools (which often receive the lion's share of positive press about education) in increasingly middle-class neighborhoods, ostensibly for this purpose, have ignited firestorms in Park Slope, Williamsburg, and next door in Prospect Heights, with opponents accusing the Department of Education of privileging the needs and desires of prospective middle-class students over the education of those students who are currently enrolled. Still, as the Clinton Hill teacher noted on Sunday, schools need broad-based community support to survive and thrive. Can these public schools attract investment without failing their current students or falling prey to school closure?

At P.S. 316 here in Crown Heights, principal Olga Maluf believes she can. Her school offers relatively small classes, excellent classroom-based technological equipment, and very good programs in art, music, and science (it's the rare elementary school with a science lab). While its scores are average to slightly-above-average, they're trending in the right direction. Though in-zone enrollment is down in recent years, one parent wrote to ILFA to suggest that "many neighborhood parents see the potential of the school" and "believe that PS 316 can be a jewel for the neighborhood and District 17." These parents organized last year to keep a charter from being co-located in the building, and now they're organizing to build local support for the school.

In the interest of encouraging parents to send their children to PS 316, Maluf and these parents have organized a meet and greet at The Candy Rush this Saturday, and tours of the school during the last two Fridays in January (that's tomorrow, the 20th, and the 27th). If you're a parent or a prospective parent, read on for more details (UPDATE: the organizers tell me that there will be some very young children in attendance, so even if your children have a few years to go before their first day of school, bring 'em along):

Please join us for coffee and doughnuts at The Candy Rush on Franklin  Avenue at 4 PM on Saturday, January 21. Kids are most welcome; there is space indoors and out (weather permitting) for them to play. (And, of course ample opportunity to ruin their teeth.)

Principal Olga Maluf will introduce herself and speak briefly about where the school is today and where she hopes to take it in the near future, and we'll all have a chance to mingle.

Please RSVP to Kelly Bare at to ensure that we have plenty of snacks on Saturday, and feel free to contact her with any other questions about PS 316 as well. 

Tours of PS 316 will be held twice monthly. January tours are scheduled for the 20th and 27th. Please write Brenda Jones at to reserve a spot.

Special thanks to Garnett Alcindor, Candy Rush owner and prospective PS 316 parent, for providing the venue.


  1. My favorite story is one in which the Dept of Ed gave raises and accolades to an elementary school for improving student performance. The DOE failed to realize that the teachers were suddenly able to "turn the tide" because the neighborhood had become wealthier, with more educated parents, who ran tutoring programs and the like.

    Many of The lower performing children and been priced out of the neighborhood and/or dissuaded from attending by application processes.

    I witnessed the story as it took place. Harlem, 2002. Just about Everyone (the teachers, the middle class kids, the low achieving kids, etc) shared the same hue.

  2. A fair point, and I think it's absolutely the case that class is the key variable here, and attracting middle-class interest regardless of race is the challenge for schools and the DOE. When class and racial divisions align, though, as they do in many of these recent instances, it raises the stakes on account of the legacy of segregated schools and separate but unequal education. Even if the DOE is trying to pursue a color-blind courtship of the middle-class, it's no surprise that people get angry when they feel their children are being pushed out to make room for others.

  3. It is also no surprise that parents and teachers want the best for their children. In the past they could demand that low achieving and/or disruptive kids could be dumped in special education so the rest of the class could progress. Such tactics have become more difficult due to lawsuits and declining funding for special Ed.

    Now, teachers and parents seek out school districts, charter schools, magnet schools and the like to try to make sure that their child attends a school that has an effective way of screening out kids who are low achievers, and place their child's education at risk .... It should come as no surprise that these kids are disproportionately from families where addiction, long term unemployment, disability, Criminal backgrounds, etc are present.

    We had a pretty good conversation on Brooklynian about it a while ago:

  4. Another good point. I think the challenge for schools like 316 (and the school mentioned at the WNYC event) is overcoming the stigma that gets attached to NYC public, non-charter schools on account of the horror stories and sensational reporting generated by some of the worst (but not always representative) cases. Parents want the best for their kids, but even the most involved folks often use heuristics/follow the crowd when it comes to education (this makes sense - people take the safe route, and don't want to be mavericks with their children's education), and that can leave solid/improving public schools (ones that don't get a lot of press or notice) without the means or flash to attract the parents who might be most involved as members of the school community.

  5. The thread I link does a pretty good job of discussing the challenges faced by public schools.

    When local parents have the resources and power to overtake a local school, they often successfully do. They then use this power to exclude the lowest performing students and teachers, and a more rigorous atmosphere.

    The UFT needs to convince those who are ready for such struggles to conduct them in an environment of (real or perceived) failure and mediocrity. Often, the UFT only convinces such parents that it would be good for the UFT, and maybe some kids other their own.

    If the trend continues, many traditional public schools will become what special Ed was: Places that are unable to exclude any student by law, and places that are unable to exclude any staff member out of desperation.

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