Beginning late summer 2012, members of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the Black Male Donor Collaborative and the Brooklyn Movement Center together embarked upon a mission to better understand School District 16.
For years, District 16-- which encompasses a large part of Bedford-Stuyvesant-- repeatedly has ranked as one of the lowest-performing school districts in all of New York City. And the coalition of Brooklyn-based organizations desperately wanted to know why.
“For too long, CSD16’s schools and families have been unsupported, lacking the resources of comparable districts while struggling with widespread economic challenges,” says Brooklyn Community Foundation President Marilyn Gelber. “Year after year, the statistics have shown that the current education model does not work for this otherwise resilient, highly engaged community."
So in the fall of 2012, independent of the NYC Department of Education network, the coalition began an in-depth survey of the machinations, the problems and the players behind School District 16.
On January 16, 2013, the coalition released its findings:
The report, entitled, “Raising the Stakes: Investing in a Community School Model to Lift Student Achievement in Community School District 16,” is a living blueprint for how funders can best approach closing the achievement gap in District 16-- Perhaps, one of the most contemporary outlines for urban school reform to date.
“In the beginning of this initiative, we faced the tough challenge of being outsiders seeking to gain an insider’s view without the direct imprimatur of the Department of Education,” said Gelber.
However, CSD16's administrators, faculty and staff welcomed the chance to speak candidly, one-on-one about what they observed were the greatest areas of need-- an opportunity to share not easily afforded them in the past.
The coalition sat in interviews with every principal in each of the district’s 26 public schools (excluding charter schools), as well as a handful of teachers, students, and about a dozen parents and after- and out-of-school providers.
"Raising the Stakes" called for the following recommendations:
- Increased support in after- and out-of-school programs
- More tools to facilitate greater parent engagement
- Enhanced support services for students as they grow older
- More collaboration amongst principals
For example, the Brooklyn Movement Center found that due to the DOE's system of individual school evaluations, principals reported little shared collaboration amongst networks of local schools. As a result, principals often feel they are in competition with other principals in their own districts for scarce resources and high-achieving students.
“In reviewing the Brooklyn Movement Center’s findings, I was most surprised by the insularity and isolation of schools in the district from each other, and the absence of any DOE encouragement to network on a neighborhood basis,” said Gelber. “Schools and administrators are competing against each other for few available resources, rather than working together to build bonds and share strengths that benefit the community as a whole.”
To address this problem, the report recommends a philanthropic investment in a multiyear demonstration project in CSD16, with a cohort of nine schools (three primary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools), focused on supporting collaboration and a viable K-12 pipeline. The network would also include incentives for principal collaboration, and an advisory group of educators and community stakeholders.
Nicole Sharpe, director of the Black Male Donor Collaborative said she expects the report will provide BMDC with best practices for improving educational inputs and outcomes throughout the city’s most disadvantaged communities, particularly with black boys.
“It is our hope to mobilize the corporate and philanthropic sectors to become active participants in this initiative; use this practice to empower communities, close the academic achievement gap and chart a collective path to academic transformation," said Sharpe.
Philanthropic donors, in partnership with forward-thinking community leaders can use the findings in “Raising the Stakes” to help urban academic institutions reinvent themselves and avoid total failure, said Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center.
“The lives of our children depend on it,” Griffith said.
CORRECTION AND AMPLIFICATION (1/30/2013, 2:20p.m.):
This article states the project began six months ago. That holds true for the coalition's ground work. However, the first stage, which was to develop a needs assessment and recommendations for investment, commenced in December 2011 when BCF & BMDC made grants to the Brooklyn Movement Center for the research that took place in the spring and summer of 2012.