2001-08-25 / Columnists

School Scope by Howard Schwach

I admit it, I was wrong. I wrote that District 27 would not get a magnet grant because there was no way for our schools to "reduce minority isolation." There are just not enough non-minority students to go around and those that are slated for our middle schools often go elsewhere.

I did say, however, that we might get the grant if Representative Anthony Weiner got more active that Chuck Schumer did in the past and "put in the good word for the district."

I think that is exactly what happened.

In any case, the district got $3.5 million in federal money to bring the non-minority kids who have voted with their feet over the past several years back to the district and to hold on to those who are still trying to make middle school decisions.

The recent grant is designed to bring White students back to the schools they have walked away from, and, by doing that, to bring a better racial mix to those schools.

"When you have non-minority children leaving the district, you have to construct good educational programs to bring those kids back," Superintendent Matt Bromme told a Daily News reporter.

The numbers are startling. While almost one-third of the school-aged children who live within district boundaries are White, just 19 percent of the kids who attend district schools are White.

And, almost 2,500 non-minority students who live in the district attend public schools in other districts. This does not take into account those students who attend private and parochial schools.

The "White flight" from our district is clear and has been to anybody who is watching for the past several years.

There are many reasons why those children left the district, and it is not clear whether the federal money will make that much of a difference.

First of all, parents sent their kids to other places because they believed that MS 180 was not safe.

All it took for the school to get that reputation was for one of the White students in the Scholar Research Institute (SRI) Program – the school’s gifted program—to be assaulted by a minority student from the special education program.

Word spread like wildfire in the Belle Harbor and Neponsit communities that the school was unsafe.

That was the beginning of the end for MS 180.

The problem was exacerbated when school principal Bob Spata failed to respond in a way that the parents considered adequate to the threat.

It was exacerbated further when District 27 took the gifted programs away from the schools and reduced the number of students in the SRI.

"Our kids were not accepted at 180, but they were accepted by District 21," a parent told The News. "Parents threw up their hands and said, ‘why bother? We try and we were not accepted."

If acceptance is the key, then the magnet may or may not bring back the kids and their parents.

One of the rules is that schools that receive the grant may not have special classes. That effectively does away with the SRI program as well as with ALPS. All classes have to be heterogeneous, meaning that they have to be made up of kids with varying educational backgrounds and educational skill levels.

Many parents do not want their children in classes with students who are far below them in terms of skill levels and educational interest.

If safety is the key, then parents will not send their kids back to district schools until that issue is resolved and that may mean moving some of the special education students to other venues.

It may also mean making the schools tougher on those who transgress school rules, even though Bromme has stated on many occasions that he is opposed to suspension.

Will the federal money make the difference? It might! Then again, it might not.

It is up to the district to respond to parental needs and it is up to the parents to put a little trust in the district.

Are those things possible?

I don’t think so, but then I was wrong before.

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