A look at the history of District 3, which stretches along the West Side of Manhattan from 59th to 122nd Street, shows how administrators’ decisions, combined with the choices of parents and the forces of gentrification, have shaped the current state of its schools, which, in one of the most politically liberal parts of a liberal city, remain sharply divided by race and income, and just as sharply divergent in their levels of academic achievement.
In 1984, two years before Ms. Shneyer started kindergarten, less than 8 percent of the district’s 12,321 elementary and middle school students were white. Not a single school was majority white, and the only school where white students made up the biggest group was P.S. 87 on West 78th Street. At the time, many white parents would not even consider their zoned schools. James Mazza, who served as deputy superintendent, and then superintendent of the district, from 1988 to 1997, recalled in an interview that parents would sometimes come into his office carrying a newspaper with the test scores of every school in the district and explain that they didn’t want to go to their zoned school because of its place on the list. Though scores are often used as a shorthand for quality, they correlate closely with the socioeconomic level of the children in a school.
Ms. Ortiz didn’t think having more white or upper-middle-class parents in the school would necessarily improve it, since she thought that they would mostly push for programs that benefited their own children. She said it seemed that Ms. Castellano-Folk already gave parents in the gifted program preferential treatment.
Others expressed positive feelings about the school.