School Leader Takes A Stand On Equity Of Access For All Students
By Henry Zymeck
Back in April, I was invited by our Community Education Council to participate in a parent meeting at PS 199 regarding Community School District 3’s proposed plan to decrease academic and socioeconomic segregation in its middle schools. I agreed to do so because I wanted to help reassure skeptical parents that this plan to promote diversity and inclusion would offer substantial benefits to students across the academic and socioeconomic spectrum, and to the D3 community at large, where the issue of academic, economic and racial segregation is particularly thorny. Under the leadership of Superintendent Ilene Altschul, CSD3’s middle school principals had met several
times to grapple with this imbalance in our schools, with the goal of building consensus around a plan that we could collectively support when it was rolled out. We knew that it would be challenging to adapt curriculum, pedagogy and structures to the changing demographic makeup of our schools. We knew that successful implementation would require patience, resources and administrative support. We certainly knew that some families would vocally express concerns that the impact of the proposed changes would fall most heavily on their kids.
So, when I arrived at the April 24 meeting, I fully expected that some parents at this town hall would express strong opposition to the plan. But while I had attended many contentious meetings in our district, most recently around rezoning, I was not prepared for some of the more extreme characterizations of groups of children in our district, and how some of these comments were greeted with applause. For more than an hour, I listened patiently to one objectionable statement after another. When it came time for me to share my views, I felt compelled not only to defend the plan, but to make a strong rebuttal to some of the commentary.
Although I know that there is always media at these meetings, I certainly did not anticipate that in the ensuing days, a NY1 video clip from the meeting would go viral, nor that it would be retweeted by our new chancellor. The sudden notoriety has been a bit unsettling, but I couldn’t be more excited and gratified to have this conversation take center stage in our discourse about social justice in the realm of education. I find it shameful that segregation — whether along racial, ethnic, academic or economic lines — is so rampant in our city’s school system, including in the Upper West Side district I have served in for the past 26 years. Despite some modest recent improvement efforts and lots of lip service, our city’s schools remain among the most segregated in the country. The NY1 video clip has done much to shed light on the formidable challenges that stand in the way of promoting more equity of access for all students, especially for our most disadvantaged families.
As such, this would be a most opportune time for our city’s school leaders to unite as role models for our communities and fiercely advocate for equity and access for all students. We need to think deeply about the structures that support the entrenched, systemic segregation in NYC’s public school system, and the way it indelibly stains our city’s cultural fabric. We need to accept our share of responsibility for the way things are, and for changing the minds of those who are fearful of sending their kids to inclusive schools. The outpouring of support I have received from across the country and beyond, starting with that courageous retweet by Chancellor Carranza, has been incredibly gratifying and uplifting, and has inspired me to reach out to all of you in solidarity. If one principal taking a stand can resonate with so many, imagine what we can accomplish together if we unite our voices behind this cause.
Henry Zymeck is the principal of MS 245 The Computer School in Manhattan.
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