Year In Review

By Sarah Geisenheimer
Executive Director of the Fund for Public Schools

As we approach the end of 2016, we are reflecting on our progress over the past year to facilitate partnerships between the philanthropic community and the NYC Department of Education (DOE).  These partnerships support the DOE to pilot innovative projects, accelerate promising and outcome-driven initiatives, and allow us to respond quickly and strategically to emerging needs across the system. Ultimately, successful projects can reach 1.1 million students in NYC – the largest education system in the country.

Thanks to the vital support and partnership of the philanthropic community, we have received nearly $27M in private funding since last December, when I became Executive Director of the Fund. These critical dollars support NYC’s 1.1 million public school students to realize their potential and become the future leaders of our city. Private funders are supporting our youngest learners to develop critical foundational academic skills, enabling all students to learn skills for the 21st century workforce, and assisting our students in greatest need.  Importantly, private support is also empowering the NYC Department of Education (DOE) to innovate at the classroom and system-wide level.

Below are some of the innovative initiatives the Fund has supported in 2016:

Building Skills for the 21st Century

All students in NYC are learning critical thinking and problem solving skills through Computer Science for All (CS4All), a multi-year, public-private partnership to provide computer science education to every student in NYC by 2025. CS4All will make New York City the largest school district in the country to provide computer science education to all students, in all public schools. By providing high-quality and engaging exposure to computational thinking, CS4All positions our city’s diverse students as the future talent pipeline for the NYC and global workforce. In its first year, CS4All has trained 457 teachers to bring back computer science instruction to 246 schools – nearly 15% of NYC public schools – in all five boroughs of New York City. In just over one year, we have raised $20.5M of our ten-year, $40M private fundraising goal. 

Enriching Pre-K

High-quality pre-K is the first step in a child’s path towards college and career readiness. Studies clearly demonstrate that high-quality pre-K provides children with stronger math, reading, language, and social-emotional skills going into elementary school. We are grateful for the generosity of private funders who are supporting our youngest learners to achieve academic excellence through their philanthropic investment that supports two critical professional development tracks for pre-K teachers: Pre-K Create (Create) and Pre-K Explore (Explore).  Both programs are dedicated to pre-K program quality for NYC’s 70,000+ pre-K students.

·         Explore trains pre-K educators to implement a math-focused, evidenced-based curriculum integrated into Interdisciplinary Units of Study. With private funding, Explore will reach more than 1,000 classrooms over two years.

·         Create, in partnership with leading arts organizations Studio in a School, Third Street Music, Dance Education Laboratory and the New Victory Theatre, provides teachers with training and resources to lead arts-based activities that support holistic development and foundational academic skills. The program is set to serve up to 1,000 pre-K educators this year. 

Supporting Early Literacy

We know that students who read at grade level by the end of 3rd grade graduate high school and enroll in college at higher rates than those who don’t. Private funders are supporting our early learners to develop foundational literacy skills that will put our students on a path to success. Through its Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education, The New York Community Trust is supporting the expansion of Reading Rescue to 30 schools reaching over 6,000 high-needs students in Brooklyn and the Bronx.  Students receiving Reading Rescue tutoring have met grade level standards at a rate comparable to, or higher than, students in other tutoring programs. This grant-funded partnership between the DOE Division of Teaching & Learning, Literacy Trust, and the Young Men’s Initiative will also support research on the effectiveness of combining the Reading Rescue program with the Universal Literacy program, DOE’s commitment to ensure every student reads on grade level by the end of 2nd Grade.

Encouraging Attendance

The philanthropic community is also supporting some of the city’s highest-needs students to attend school.  If students are not in school, they are not learning. Chronic absenteeism can be correlated with negative outcomes. For example, 79% of children in the juvenile justice system had records of chronic absenteeism just prior to their arrests. Chronic absenteeism is a significant challenge for students in temporary housing (STH) – three out of four homeless students who are chronically absent in the sixth grade never graduate high school.

        ·         The Office of Community Schools, with support from Deutsche Bank, has hired an Attendance Coordinator that is specifically focused on the needs of students in temporary housing (STH) to work on reducing chronic absenteeism among the STH population in the Community Schools.

        ·         Thanks to in-kind support from NIKE, the Office of Community Schools launched its first Attendance Challenge this December. The month-long attendance improvement competition motivated students, teachers, and families to help students attend school every day. Schools with the greatest attendance improvement won NIKE apparel and accessories just in time for the holidays.

Supporting Students & Families

Private dollars continue to help the DOE innovate to meet students and families where they are. NYC School Finder, supported by The Rockefeller Foundation, is transforming the DOE’s longstanding paper-based high school directories to a web-enabled school choice research tool.  Students, families, and guidance counselors now have access to a tool that is searchable, up-to-date with the latest information on NYC’s schools, and accessible by mobile device. School Finder is increasing the accessibility and ease of the enrollment system for our 70,000+ families that go through the high school selection process each year.  In the first three months of the tool’s implementation, nearly 55,000 unique users accessed School Finder to support the high school search process.

Developing High-Quality Teachers

Support from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a longtime FPS supporter, is helping NYC educators solve critical problems that stand in the way of student success. This new grant, which supports development of the Continuous Learning Fellows Program, is closely aligned to research and principles developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and is designed to accelerate professional learning and lead to stronger instructional practice. As part of this work, we are excited to provide opportunities for strategically identified teacher leaders (the “Fellows”), principals, district leadership, and field support staff to strengthen their practice through improvement science tools and learning from improvement science experts.  In addition to supporting real-time continuous improvement and building teacher-to-teacher collaboration and engagement across schools and districts, the Continuous Learning Fellows Program will share best practices broadly, ultimately allowing all teachers in our system to access high-quality tools and instructional practices that have been tested and scaled at participating schools.    

These are just a few examples of the many strong partnerships between the philanthropic community and the NYC Department of Education. All of them are targeted to set our students on a path to college, careers, and success.  We are proud to facilitate these partnerships on behalf of all New York City public school students and look forward to continuing and growing our public-private partnerships in the months and years ahead.

We hope you will consider joining our ever-growing list of major supporters who gave generously in the past year to support NYC’s future leaders.

Matt Darian