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Mayor approves plan to increase diversity at Park Slope schools

PARK SLOPE, Brooklyn — Another New York City school district took a step toward diversity Thursday morning. Mayor Bill de Blasio approved the plan for District 15 in Park Slope and announced a new initiative to help other districts follow in the same footsteps.

"I am here to formally approve the District 15 diversity plan," de Blasio said to a raucous round of applause.

It felt like a Park Slope pep-rally at Middle School 51. Two similar announcements to eliminate Middle School screening on the Lower East Side and Upper West Side didn't receive a fraction of the fanfare as they were announced in an e-mail. But the Mayor returned to his old neighborhood for the latest announcement, applauding the parent-led movement as he brushed back concerns about integration.

"If the inference is that folks who have fewer resources or folks who may be immigrant aren't going to be as focused or as concerned, I think it's quite the opposite," the Mayor said. "I think folks who have had less fair treatment want better education for their kids and put more time and energy into getting it."

The move means that starting in October, students in Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park will have their middle school selected through a lottery, with about half the seats in each school reserved for students learning English or classified as low income. Some parents had pushed back on the plan, raising concerns that the change would strain resources that have helped their children succeed academically.

"I'm going to respectfully push back on the notion that diversity waters anything down," said New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. "I think it's the wrong question. If that was the case then New York City would not be the successful city that it is because we are diverse."

As part of the approval, the Mayor also announced $2 million in funding for other school districts that want to come up with their own diversity plan. So far 14 of the city's 32 school districts have applied for similar state funding. The Mayor said he hoped the diversity movement would have a grassroots movement throughout the city and help close the academic achievement gap among students.

"We can find success with all of our students," said MS 51 Principal Lenore Dileo Berner. "So moving forward that includes students at all levels, so bring it on."