Last Wednesday, elected officials joined parents and students from Medgar Evers College Preparatory School to protest the Department of Education’s (DOE) proposed changes, which will take effect next year.
According to DOE spokesman Will Mantell, the first change, which would apply for the 2019 admissions cycle, would allow the DOE to make offers to students, rather than the school itself. Medgar Evers Prep, he said, would still be in charge of screening students and can submit their rankings to the DOE.
Mantell said the technical change would streamline the application process for students and parents. DOE is working to bring all of its middle schools into one centralized process.
The second change could have more consequential results. DOE wants Medgar Evers Prep to recruit and admit a larger number of students with disabilities that is consistent with the percentage within the district.
According to Mantell, only 6 percent of students at the Carroll Street school have a disability, whereas District 17 has a 17 percent population.
He reiterated that no changes would be made to the curriculum and standards of the school, which has students in grades six through 12. The move is part of the “Shared Path to Success” and city school diversity plans that aim to serve a higher rate of students with disabilities.
Schools such as Baruch High School, Talent Unlimited, Eleanor Roosevelt and Columbia Secondary School have all gone through the process, Mantell said.
“We will collaborate with the Medgar Evers community on these admissions process changes,” Mantell said.
But State Senator Jesse Hamilton, who noted that the school has a 96 percent graduation rate, called Medgar Evers Prep “a gem” in the Crown Heights community. He said the changes would affect the school in a bigger way.
He referenced the school’s English Language Arts (ELA) and college readiness scores, which are higher than the district average.
“It is the best high school of color in New York City, so why are we trying to water it down?” Hamilton said. “Maybe people are afraid that we can show that the black kids are the smartest, that they can learn and compete if given the resources.”
A common gripe elected officials had with DOE is that Medgar Evers Prep is lacking resources. The school doesn’t have a gymnasium or auditorium, Hamilton said. Students don’t have smart boards in every classroom.
“This school took years to get to this point, over a decade, it didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “It was the community, elected officials, parents saying we need an alternative.
“Keep it the way it is, if it’s not broke don’t fix it,” Hamilton added. “Keep your hands off Medgar Evers, DOE.”
Public Advocate Letitia James said when she was a councilwoman for the neighboring Brooklyn district, she was part of a coalition that reversed a decision to fire the principal.
She believes Medgar Evers represents the best of New York City, where “the potential of some of the brightest city’s brightest kids are realized.”
“When it comes to this particular school, we will not be moved, no one will get in our way,” James said. “They will not dismantle a model that is already working for students of color in Brooklyn and throughout the city.”
The public advocate urged the DOE to “back off,” saying children of color throughout the city have “sad educational outcomes.” Despite the lack of resources, the students at Medgar Evers Prep are still succeeding, she said.
“You should be looking at replicating Medgar Evers,” she said. “You should be creating additional selective schools in underserved communities where education is challenging.”
“You’re not messing with Millennial High School, Hunter College High School or Mark Twain,” James added. “So why the hell are you messing with Medgar Evers?”
Assemblywoman Diana Richardson assured the students that the elected officials would stand with them. She said when the school was established in 2000, it was a “direct response” to the failing school district.
“The mere fact that you do not have adequate facilities, yet your graduation rate supersedes so many other institutions nearby, speaks volumes,” she said.
PTA president Norelda Cotterel called Medgar Evers Prep “a unique school.” She said interfering with the admissions process for the middle school would impact the high school as well.
“We would become a statistic of these failing schools,” she said. “We will not accept this proposed change.”