In the Nation's Most Segregated School System, a Brooklyn Middle School Finds Formula to Achieve Diversity

With Mayor Bill de Blasio facing pressure to address segregation in city schools one solution might be found in brownstone Brooklyn. A middle school there has reinvented itself to quickly attract a much more diverse student body. Education reporter Lindsey Crist has the story.

It's a not-so-common scene in city schools — white, black and Hispanic students sharing a classroom, this one at the Boruem Hill School for International Studies. 

The diversity is unusual because the city is grappling with the embarrassing distinction of having the most segregated school system in the country, according to a recent study.

"I think a lot of schools in a lot of school leaders are thinking about how to diversify their communities and there's no formula," said assistant principal Nicole Lanzillotto.

Three years ago, there were hardly any white students at this middle school, even though it is in a mostly white neighborhood.

Professional families in Boruem Hill and Cobble Hill avoided it. Test scores were low, and enrollment was falling.

"We opened our doors and said 'Community what do you need? What does it mean to be a community school? Define it for us,'" said principal Jillian Juman.

The answer, school administrators say, was demanding academics and a French dual language program to serve the area's French speaking population.

The school remade itself according to that vision, offering a rigorous curriculum so students could earn a prestigious International Baccalaureate certificate — only the city's second public middle school to do so.

The school also required all students to spend part of the day learning in French.

White parents began enrolling their children — some from private schools.

Since 2014, the number of incoming students has more than tripled. And the percent of white students doubled.

Five-hundred-forty-two students are enrolled here. It's all been sea change for the students — white, black and Hispanic — entering from segregated elementary schools.

"I live in a mostly black neighborhood so they were mostly black kids were at my school but here it's a little mix of everyone and that was different for me," said student Divaluz Austin.

The schools Chancellor now points to the School for International Studies as a model for how to integrate quickly. This spring, the de Blasio administration says it will release a plan on how to reduce segregation system wide

"My ultimate goal is to create an environment where you can walk in and there's not a sense of segregation at all," said assistant principal Lanzillotto. I mean that is the ultimate dream that I think is really good for kids and what a lot of schools are moving in the direction towards. But it's not easy."

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