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‘Without diversity, students live in a bubble’

Teacher who helped develop District 15 plan excited about results
New York Teacher

When Lynn Shon accepted an invitation in 2017 to join the diversity working group in Brooklyn’s District 15 as a teacher representative, she had no idea where it would lead. For Shon, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher and instructional coach at MS 88 in Park Slope, the working group turned out to be the project of a lifetime.

“My opinion was respected,” Shon said. “I was a teacher in the room with a voice. That was meaningful and a milestone in my career.”

After one year of intense work, study and community outreach, the working group came up with a diversity plan that eliminates screening by grades and attendance from District 15 middle schools and gives priority for 6th-grade seats to students from low-income families, English language learners and students in temporary housing.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza in September approved the plan, which will reserve about half the seats in each middle school for those students. They also introduced a $2 million school diversity grant program for other districts and communities to develop their own plans.

District 15, which includes both brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods and the public housing projects in Red Hook, has some of the most sought-after elementary schools in the city.

“Without diversity, students live in a bubble,” said Shon, who has taught at MS 88 for her entire nine-year teaching career. “With diversity, students and teachers are challenged to work through differences, growing us all into more empathetic, authentically respectful critical thinkers and problem-solvers.”

Shon was asked to join the working group, the first of its kind, by her school’s principal and the district superintendent. Her colleagues for the project were administrators and community leaders, so she was keenly aware that her view as a teacher was crucial.

“My perspective as an educator is that a lot of what empowers children is the compassion and leadership of the teacher,” she said.

The working group met for two to three hours at a time, once a week in the evening during the school year, and held public presentations and workshops to provide data to the community.

“It was about informing the community and getting feedback from them to incorporate into our recommendations,” she said. “We really wanted to honor the community’s expression of ideas. The plan will only work if we hold ourselves accountable to every point of the plan.”

The challenge is not just bringing students into a school, but helping them feel they are part of it, said Shon. “The real work begins now: inclusion, anti-racism training, community engagement, changing the curriculum and addressing the needs of children with special needs,” she said.

Shon said she would tell teachers going into the diversity planning process, “It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to be messy. But there’s no progress without it.” Her advice to them is to be resilient.

“We’re going to feel the impact of desegregation more than anyone, and the work is up to us. The challenge is to make sure every student is included,” she said. “And we need to hold our schools and districts responsible to follow through on all parts of the plan.”