They are parents and retired public school educators who live in central Brooklyn and who disagree with Mayor de Blasio's proposal for diversifying the city's most selective public high schools. They say scrapping the admissions test, as the mayor wants to do, would wrongly lower standards. They want to prove there's another way.
"We're concerned educators,” said Lynnette Brinson, a retired assistant principal of PS 91 in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. “We know the potential is here, we see it. We've helped to cultivate it. We need to help to harness the talents of these youngsters and to help their parents with the resources to get them into these specialized schools.”
What's notable is that these parents and former educators live in a school district where nearly all of the public school students are black or Hispanic -- and where very few go on to attend Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and the other elite high schools. They are exactly the kind of students de Blasio had in mind when he proposed replacing the admissions test with a policy allowing the top 7% of students in each middle school to go to the specialized high schools.
But rather than abolish the test, the retired educators want to launch an intensive afterschool and weekend program with 30 high-achieving black and Hispanic third graders. The students would receive tutoring and enrichment until they take the specialized high school exam in 8th grade. The experience, the educators say, would mirror some of the preparation and focus that benefit white and Asian students in other communities..
"We want to prove a point that you don't need to lower the bar for children of color,” said Nancie Katz, an investigative journalist and co-founder of of a non-profit called Seeds in the Middle. “They are just as capable as anyone else of getting into those schools. We want to give them the same prep and the same learning that other children get."
The group needs $90,000, or $3,000 per student, to launch the program. They're seeking sponsors, applying for grants, and have launched a GoFundMe page.
Other small non-profits offer free tutoring for low income students to prepare them for the specialized high school exam, and the city has a free prep program called Dream as well, but they don’t start with students this young.
"It's too late by middle school,” said Solomon Long, a retired principal from PS 91. “Most of the competition starts in grade school, second grade, third grade. We want to do it in third grade. For a child to have a chance, they have to have five years of intensive study."
Solomon Long and Lynnette Brinson say many of the gifted and talented classes and academic after-school programs for smart black and Hispanic students here are gone. By bringing one back, they hope to give bright kids from Crown Heights, Flatbush and Brownsville a path to schools like Stuyvesant.