District 3, which encompasses the Upper West Side and most of Harlem, currently has no high school that gives special consideration to area students—and the local parent council doesn’t like it.
On June 17, the district’s Community Education Council and Presidents’ Council approved a request asking the Department of Education to give local students priority at Beacon High School, considered one of city’s the most prestigious schools. There are 12 high schools in the district, and all of them have a citywide admissions policy. By contrast, District 2, which covers the East Side and parts of downtown, has several priority high schools for local students.
“Many parents from the district have come to us and complained about how their children were not accepted to Beacon,” said Elizabeth Shell, the parent council’s president. “Beacon has many students from District 2, and yet that district has five high schools who give them priority while we have none.”
Beacon, at 227 W. 61 St., gave priority to District 3 students when it was created in 1993. However, in 2005, the school introduced the admissions policy change, which was later approved by the department. Now, students from across the city can get in if they meet the admission criteria, which include test scores, a portfolio and an interview.
A change seems unlikely, though.
“We take very seriously the recommendations made by the Community Education Council, but there is no plan for Beacon to change its admission criteria, at least for this year,” said Andrew Jacob, a spokesperson for the department.
Admissions criteria for the 2009-2010 school year had already been approved and published by the time the resolution was passed, he explained.
“We try to give students more choices with high school admissions policies, and Beacon is an example,” Jacob said.
Priority for District 3 students relates to questions raised earlier this year of declining diversity at Beacon. According to department statistics, the number of Hispanic students has decreased from 24 percent in 2005 to 21.2 percent in 2008. African-American enrollment has also declined from 19.1 percent to 15 percent during the same period.
The discrepancies, according to the department, reflect the fact that until 2005, students from District 3, which has a much larger percentage of African Americans and Latinos, had priority. Now, the pool of applicants reflects the city as a whole.
“Beacon remains one of the most diverse and selective schools in the city,” Jacob said.
Still, some students, parents and other critics have been pressing the issue. On June 8, diversity was the focus of a forum convened by the group at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, on West 86th Street and West End Avenue.
“This is a question of transparency,” said Andrietta Sims, a public school teacher whose daughter graduated from Beacon two years ago. “We want to know how the students are being admitted and how they are going to correct this.”
Sims is one of the people who in May sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein expressing concern about the decrease in diversity. By the time the department answered in June, a group of prominent scholars—including New York University professors Pedro Noguera and Gary Anderson—signed on to a second letter to the chancellor.
For parent council president Shell, the diversity issue could be resolved if the school again gave priority to District 3 students. But Shell said that Beacon’s administration has not been willing to talk to them.
Meanwhile, students plan to continue their protests and approach underrepresented communities to inform them about the admissions process. This will help broaden the pool of applicants and increase diversity, no matter what group has priority.
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