During the Bloomberg era, new schools opened at a rapid pace, mostly by decree from above. Now comes Mayor Bill de Blasio’s first major expansion of schools, which takes a completely different approach.
Imagine Schools NYC starts where it should — in the community. Educators, parents, students and the surrounding community will craft proposals about the kind of new schools they want to see built in their neighborhoods. Communities can submit proposals to transform existing public schools as well. This is a game-changer — and long overdue. Schools are going to be founded on real collaboration, not a top-down approach that alienates everyone.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has teamed up with Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, to open 20 new schools and give 20 existing schools a top-tobottom makeover. Powell Jobs’ foundation will contribute $10 million, the Robin Hood Foundation is adding $6 million to the pot and the city is kicking in another $16 million. None of the schools will have selective admissions.
Design teams of teachers, students, parents, community members and business partners will propose plans that make the case for transformation. The private money will cover training and curriculum development; the city will cover construction and salaries.
The city hosted information sessions in the five boroughs in October, and design teams must submit proposals by Nov. 6. Winning proposals will be announced in May. The schools are expected to open or relaunch in the fall of 2021 or the following September.
The Imagine Schools NYC process is bound to be messy and may not work in every instance. It requires consensus among many different stakeholders. But if this approach becomes embedded in the Department of Education, it will be a huge win for educators, parents and everyone who cares about the future of public schools.