If it ain’t broke don’t fix it – unless you’re the Department of Education (DOE) dealing with Medgar Evers College Preparatory Schools (MECPS).
MECP, which serves a largely African-American student body from Central Brooklyn and southeast Queens. is a specialized 6-12th grade public school that requires an admissions process. It offers a super-fast-paced curriculum, a wide array of Advanced Placement classes, and an unusually large program devoted to the study of Mandarin, according to Inside Schools.
A source of pride in the African-American community since its inception 16 years ago, MECP sends its graduates both to the Ivy League and to historically black colleges such as Howard University and Spelman College.
MECPS students have excelled academically with 84% of their middle grade students meeting state proficiency in English Language Arts (ELA) and 78% in math, far surpassing the majority of NYC schools where less than 38% of students meet state proficiency in ELA and math.
But all that success aside, the DOE recently decided to change the admission process at MCEPS, opening up the school to a wider range of children including students with disabilities.
According to the DOE, the are two changes to the admission process that are currently being targeted for implementation in collaboration with the Medgar Evers community.
The first, a technical change that would start in the 2019 admissions cycle (students applying next year to enter 6th grade in Fall 2019), would centralize the MCEPS middle school admission process into the DOE’s current system. This means that rather than admitting students separate from the DOE’s admissions process, MCEPS would screen students and submit their rankings to the DOE, who would then make the offers to the students directly.
The second change, to be made this year, will work to recruit and admit a larger number of students with disabilities, consistent with the percentage in District 17, which includes the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, East Flatbush and Crown Heights.
The move is part of a broader city effort under the “Shared Path to Success” Plan and the School Diversity Plan, that aims to serve a rate of students with disabilities equivalent to the borough population for high school and the district population for middle school, according to DOE spokepserson Will Mantell.
But these changes of possibly watering down the academic standards of the school so alarmed Public Advocate Letitia James and local Central Brooklyn lawamkers Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley, State Sen. Jesse Hamilton and City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, that they fired off a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina questioning the moves on such a highly successful school.
“At Medgar Evers College Preparatory School there is no gymnasium, no auditorium and lack of adequate classroom space. For the most part, the school is forced to use the corridor of the basement for their gymnasium. This is a school that has over 1,200 students. Where is the concern to get this school proper and adequate facilities? This seems to be far more important than the school’s admission policy and the realignment of the curricula which means a watering down of the school’s academic program,” they wrote.
The lawmakers strongly opposed the changes and demanded a meeting with DOE officials to rectify the situation.
Mantell countered that DOE officials are having ongoing meetings with the Medgar Evers community including the local PTA and Student Leadership Team (SLT) and local leaders about the changes, which he characterized as being fairly minimal and routine.
“We are planning to implement this change, but will collaborate with the MECPS community about the specifics of this change going forward,” said Mantell. “These changes are not uniquely specific to Medgar Evers and are part of a city-wide effort to bring all middle schools with school-based application processes into the centralized DOE process.”
Mantell went on to say that though MECPS is the only school citywide undergoing these changes right now, but the DOE already has a vast majority of schools under their process and hopes to have all schools in their system in the coming years.
But both Mosley, a Howard University Law School graduate, who wants to send his 5th grade son to MECPS next year, and James maintain that the DOE’s cavalier attitude towards these changes is very disturbing – especially considering the city’s abysmal record of closing the education gap between White and Chinese students, and those in black and brown communities.
“There’s nothing more important than ensuring every single one of our children has access to a high quality education. I am deeply concerned about the DOE’s decision to change the academic programs and admissions criteria at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School,” said James.
“For years, this school has provided unparalleled education and opportunity to students living in traditionally underserved communities. It is imperative that the DOE reverse this decision and prioritize the success of the students at MECPS,” she added.