NYC bureaucracy serves small schools

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I read the article, “Too Many Schools Too Soon?” (Catalyst Chicago, October 2004) with great interest. I think you make some valid points in highlighting the challenges as well as the accomplishments of New York City’s creation of new small schools. I would however like to provide a bit of the history for your readers.

The New Century High School Initiative (NCHSI), a five-year effort to break down large failing high schools and create new small schools, really preceded—and in many ways became the centerpiece—of the citywide reforms of Chancellor Joel Klein through his Children First Initiative, and the subsequent increase in Gates funding for small schools. NCHSI was launched in 2000 as a partnership between the Carnegie Corporation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Open Society Institute. A consortium was formed and managed by New Visions for Public Schools in collaboration with the United Federation of Teachers, the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, and the NYC Board of Education (as it was then)—and also included the private foundations that funded the initiative. The initiative initially began with a focus on the transformation of high schools in the Bronx by forging partnerships between school districts and community partners to create small schools that would be more educationally sound than those operating under the traditional model.

One of the architects of NCHSI in fact was Michelle Cahill while she was still working at the Carnegie Corporation. At the time, I don’t think many of us envisaged the bigger transformation that would follow with a subsequent acceleration of opening so many more small schools. But it began to build a momentum that has enabled the Department of Education to totally re-structure its own bureaucracy so that it can provide the kinds of support you mention. The changes have been vast and rapid. One change that will probably be worth a future article is the revamping of the admissions process to make it less dependent on parents’ savvy and clout and more geared towards giving each child a chance to apply to a variety of schools that will meet the child’s needs and interests.

Thanks for the insightful article.

Erlin Ibreck

Director, youth initiatives

Open Society Institute

New York, NY