Diversifying New York City schools

New York City is a diverse melting pot. So Kristen Berger wanted to make sure the schools in her district reflect that.

"I was inspired knowing it was the school district I grew up in and now my daughter was going to," Berger said. "I was horrified when I first saw how segregated our middle schools really are."

She is on the Community Education Council for School District 3, which encompasses schools on the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem. For the past several years, she and other elected parent leaders on the council have been working to make the 16 middle schools in their district more diverse. Now the Department or Education has approved the changes the council has been pushing for.

"There will be a priority group for the first 25 percent of seats for people who are both economically and academically disadvantaged," Berger said. "So that's students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunch and have lower state test scores."

That means all District 3 middle schools, including those that are predominantly white, will admit more low-income and low-testing students. This is the first districtwide middle school diversity plan in the city. The DOE hopes it will serve as a model for other districts.

However, there has been plenty of controversy. Earlier this year, many parents at P.S. 199, which is in this district, told Fox 5 that they strongly oppose the changes.

Many other families welcome these changes. One parent told Fox 5 that competition isn't fair for his 5th-grade daughter because he can't afford expensive tutors to help her prepare for admissions exams.

These changes go into effect in fall 2019, so the new process will affect students entering the 5th grade this academic year who are about to start applying to middle schools. The DOE will evaluate the new process after one year to determine if it was successful or not.