As in Schenectady, Amsterdam schools appear to buck the findings of a national student demographics study that found New York state schools the most segregated in the county.
“Our schools operate as one,” said District Superintendent Thomas Perillo. “We’re very proud of that fact.”
The report, drafted by John Kucsera and Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, looks at enrollment trends from 1989 to 2010.
In New York, they found many black and Latino students enrolled in what they described as “intensely segregated public schools” with less than 10 percent white enrollment.
In comparison, Amsterdam’s schools are fairly integrated, with only two slight outliers. The district is split up into five elementary schools and has one high school. The high school population is roughly 5 percent black, 32 percent Latino, and 62 percent white, according to 2011-12 school statistics.
Since all the elementary schools funnel into the same spot, the high school is a pretty good litmus test for the true demographics of the city.
Elementary schools with roughly the same demographic split, then, would be considered nicely desegregated. Generally they do pretty well. Between 4 percent and 6 percent of students in all Amsterdam schools are black.
In William Tecler, 35 percent of students are Latino and 57 percent are white. Wilber Lynch has a similar student body.
McNulty Academy’s population shifts a bit, with nearly equal numbers of white and Latino students.
The biggest separation in schools falls between William Barkley and Marie Curie. Barkley educates 25 percent Latino students to 66 percent white students, while Marie Curie has slightly more Latino students than white students. It’s the largest split within the Amsterdam School District, but compared with numbers from across the state, Perillo said it’s totally acceptable.
The study suggests school segregation these days isn’t so much perpetuated at an administrative level. Rather, different groups just live in different areas. Amsterdam, which has a high Latino population, is no exception. Perillo said the relatively equal diversity of each school in his district is largely due to the local magnet system.
Before 2005, all Amsterdam elementary schools were operated by neighborhood.
“When I was principal of McNulty,” he said, “all the kids on this street came to my school, and all the kids from across the street went to Tecler.”
In those days, school demographics like race and economic status hinged on the neighborhood. If a school stood in a poor area, or an area with large Latino or white populations, that’s who went to the school.
Barkley, on the south side of Amsterdam for example, had fewer students in those days. They were mainly white, and pretty well off, according to Perillo. The same was true in reverse of schools in the heart of the city.
But between 2005 and 2007, district elementary schools shifted to a magnet system, which allows parents to lottery their kids into whichever school they want.
“That really evened everything out,” Perillo said.
The persistent difference between William Barkley and Marie Curie, he said, is partially due to residential demographics.
“I think many students still go to the school that’s closest,” he said.
While the report said some segregated schools test at high levels, the authors suggested kids need to mingle to “achieve the skills and abilities required to navigate an increasingly diverse nation.”
Perillo checks and weighs the demographic numbers from his schools every year and said the district is good where it stands.
“The kids are all friends, most of the time,” he said, “and the system is fair.”