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Manhattan school district’s diversity plan starting to change student demographics, data shows

2020-01-11

New admission rules for Upper West Side and Harlem schools are starting to shift the racial and socioeconomic makeup of their student bodies, according to new Education Department data.

Eleven of the 16 participating schools in Manhattan District 3 moved closer to the district’s goal of having each school enroll a similar share of low-income and low-performing students, officials said.

The plan, devised by parents and school staff and approved by the Education Department, is part of an effort to encourage districts with diverse student populations to better balance the demographics of students at each school.

This is the first school year the diversity plan has been in effect. It covers middle schools in the district.

“The District 3 Diversity Plan was developed from the ground up and the community’s thoughtful recommendations have been critical to the success of this plan," said Education Department spokeswoman Katie O’Hanlon.

"We are supportive of their community-driven plan and are continuing to work with District 3 to identify areas where we can collaborate in an effort to better integrate their schools.”

District 3 contains sharp disparities. Some schools, like Booker T. Washington Middle School on W. 107th St., have historically enrolled few students who receive free or reduced-price lunch. Others, like Sojourner Truth School on W. 117th St., which has students from kindergarten through 8th grade, mostly have served low-income students.

Under the district plan, schools were required to prioritize 25% of seats for low-income students, and to give preference to students who under-perform academically.

Booker T. Washington School jumped from 9% low-income and low-achieving students to 18% under the new plan.

West End Secondary, an exclusive middle and high school near Lincoln Center, tripled its percentage of needy students from 5% to 15%. The school also doubled its share of black students, moving from just 7% last year to 14% this year. The district is 24% black, and 32% low-achieving and low-income.

But other schools barely budged.

The Sojourner Truth school, which is open to any student in the district and doesn’t screen based on grades, performance, or other criteria, moved from 97% to 96% low-income students. Seventy-six percent of its students are low-performing academically, compared to 79% last year.

Thirteen of the 16 schools participating in District 3's diversity plan still maintain admissions screens, which means students have to meet academic, attendance, or language criteria in order to get in.

The district’s plan was one of two major local integration that kicked off in earnest this school year.

Brooklyn’s District 15 — a racially and economically diverse area that spans the Park Slope and Red Hook neighborhoods — also crafted a diversity plan that took effect this year. That district’s plan completely eliminated academic screens at its 11 middle schools and gave priority for 52% of each school’s seats to students who are homeless, learning English, or living in poverty.

Another five districts across the city are currently working on developing their own diversity plans with city funding.