Tuesday marks the first deadline for New York City’s largest schools expansion effort under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. But even as the next phase begins, details on logistics, timelines and vision remain somewhat abstract for the private-public partnership that seeks to create 20 new innovative high schools and reimagine 20 existing schools in the country’s largest school district.
District officials last month invited educators, students, parents and the broader community to form teams and craft “innovative” designs for these future schools as part of the $32 million Imagine NYC Schools challenge announced Oct. 3 by the mayor and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. After a competitive process, the 40 new or reconfigured schools will open across the five boroughs starting in fall 2021. The DOE is receiving $16 million in private funding and outside counsel from XQ, Laurene Powell Jobs’s effort to promote high school innovation nationwide, and Robin Hood, a long-standing, Wall Street-backed foundation that combats poverty.
Nov. 12 is the first deadline for interested teams to submit “statements of intent” that tell the DOE, “This is who we are, this is who we’re going to be … [and] this is the big idea that we’re working with,” Karin Goldmark, the education department’s deputy chancellor of school planning and development, told the audience at an October information session.
The first round of design team winners will be announced in May 2020. But what happens in the meantime — what it means if a team misses the Nov. 12 deadline, how applications will be reviewed and what selected teams can expect next — is more opaque.
This community-driven process is a first for New York City and its 1.1 million students and more than 1,700 schools. Charting a new way to create or re-create schools can be “messy” and “iterative,” Goldmark said last month. She had added later to The 74 that the directives for the project are purposely more open-ended so that communities “really drive the process.”
But for those like fifth-grade math teacher Nekia Williams, more information could, in fact, be helpful.
“I am optimistic about this whole thing, but I hope that there’s some type of organization,” said Williams, who teaches in District 11 in the northeast Bronx. “I hope that they already have in their minds what they’re expecting from these new schools.”
If a team doesn’t submit a statement of intent by Nov. 12, it’s not out of luck. The DOE has confirmed that there will be subsequent application rounds, adding in an email Thursday that “exact dates of these rounds will be announced in the near future.”
The Nov. 12 deadline is the cutoff for teams that want a chance at joining the initiative’s first “design days” process in December. This months-long exercise, which will run into early February, will be inspired by XQ’s own design days model — six to seven full-day sessions where teams complete various benchmarks in developing their school plans, such as surveying the community on their design ideas and analyzing student data to deepen their understanding “of the school community’s challenges and opportunities for growth,” an XQ spokeswoman said. Teams during this time will have access to professional development and support. There will be another selection round after that where a smaller set of chosen teams will progress to additional design days, according to the DOE.
“The design process is community-driven, which takes time. It’s really rigorous, which takes time,” Goldmark said. “You want to get started.”
Not everyone who applies by Nov. 12 will make it to design days, though. “Our goal is not to narrow a lot, but we will be narrowing” the applicant pool, Goldmark told The 74. The department was unable to provide an estimate on the number of teams that had applied leading up to Tuesday’s deadline. The design day process at its limit can host up to 150 teams — and even then, “it’s not our goal to have that many,” Goldmark said. It’s unclear if that means up to 150 teams could be accepted from this first deadline pool alone, or if that cap considers future rounds too.
Teams moving forward will be notified before the beginning of December, the DOE said.