2017: A Year End Message of Thanks and Appreciation

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By Sarah Geisenheimer
Executive Director of the Fund for Public Schools

As I prepare to move on as executive director of the Fund for Public Schools (“The Fund”) to join a national education organization, I have been reflecting on our progress throughout my tenure and especially over the last year.

I joined the Fund for Public Schools because I am deeply compelled by the model. We are a unique organization as we sit between the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) and the private, philanthropic community. This position enables The Fund to facilitate innovation and improvement that can be scaled system-wide, ultimately reaching 1.1 million students. In addition to raising vital new funds for priority initiatives, The Fund collaborates directly with NYC DOE leadership and program partners to successfully steward more than 150 active grants each year that are driving over 70 central programs. These grants support critical elements of a strong system, including professional development. Last year alone private funders supported 34,375 hours of teacher professional development through programs like CS4All, Turnaround Arts, Principal Pipeline Initiative, iZone Short Cycle Evaluation, and CTE Summer Scholars, among others. In addition, in the 2016-17 school year with the support of our philanthropic partners, we managed 427 school-based gifts, grants, and scholarship programs and distributed 155 college scholarships.

Our work is guided by a strategy we refer to as “Seed-Track-Scale.” The philanthropic community supports the development of new products, services, and capacity; and our NYC DOE program partners execute the work, track outcomes, and learn what works best. As a result, our NYC DOE partners are positioned to scale and sustain these privately funded programs across the system.

To make this happen, we approach our work as both fundraisers and grants managers. Our goal is to raise funds that support the strategic priorities set forth to The Fund by the Chancellor, which we are proud to have fully met. Then, we focus on working closely with our NYC DOE and philanthropic partners to ensure grant objectives are achieved, and that we are learning and tracking impact and sharing information with our partners. This helps ensure that the funds we raise can be investments that achieve impact today, and also long-term systemic impact on the students and teachers of tomorrow within our system and beyond.

The programs we recently helped to support range in need and our work touches several disciplines, from arts and literacy to teacher leadership, diversity, and college readiness. Our programs focus on direct student impact like the Summer Arts Institute and the Ezra Jack Keats Bookmaking Competition, and on the long-term potential of initiatives. Three of these programs – NYC School Finder, Computer Science for All, and Pre-K for All­ – illustrate our strategy and the power of partnerships between the philanthropic community and the NYC DOE. Ranging in focus and in private fundraising need from $400 thousand to $41 million, they share in common the opportunity to transform the experience of our students.

The NYC School Finder tool launched in English and Spanish in September 2016 to support students and families as they navigate the high school selection process. Approximately 70,000 unique users utilized the tool during the 2016-17 school year, providing access to quality information to students and families that need it most.

The tool was initially launched with $200 thousand in private funding, including $75 thousand from the Rockefeller Foundation. An additional $200 thousand from the New York Community Trust is now supporting the next iteration of NYC School Finder. Importantly, initial philanthropic support has truly served as a lever, with the NYC DOE announcing their intention to assume the further build-out and management of NYC School Finder. This unique NYC DOE tool will continue to be used for the NYC high school choice process reaching tens of thousands of students for years to come.

We also continue to work to ensure the success of Computer Science for All, a 10-year public-private partnership to integrate computer science (CS) education into all NYC public schools. The initiative is grounded in broad-based early exposure for all students, particularly females, Blacks, Latinos, English language learners, and students with disabilities, many of whom are traditionally underrepresented in both CS and technology-related careers. Already in just its first two years, the program has trained more than 900 teachers across over 500 schools. Results from 2017 Advanced Placement (AP) courses show an over three-fold increase in the number of students taking AP CS exams and an over four-fold increase in those passing it.

CS4All is made possible by training existing teachers to provide CS education to their students. As Jorge Gallardo, a teacher at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering, and Architecture trained through CS4All explained, “Computer Science allows students to solve problems that haven’t been identified yet, with technologies that haven’t been invented yet, in ways that we haven’t even thought of yet.” Because the initiative is breaking new ground by providing CS education in the largest district in the country, to every student, and beginning in elementary school, private funds support NYU Steinhardt’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools and the Education Development Center to shed light on what is working, what is not, and why, so that the work will continually improve.

The CS4All approach was designed to leverage private funding to build capacity, and then to scale within the system. At a total cost of $81 million, with fifty percent coming from public investment and the other half from private funding raised in partnership with venture capitalist Fred Wilson and his organization, CSNYC, the NYC DOE is poised to maintain this groundbreaking effort long after private funding ceases.

The philanthropic community is also supporting the City’s Pre-K for All initiative, which guarantees a free full-day high-quality pre-K program to any four-year-old living in the city. The initiative expanded the number of children attending free, full day pre-K from 20,000 to approximately 70,000, more than tripling the number of children served. It is now the largest publicly funded pre-K system in the country. This initiative is largely funded by a historic public investment in high-quality early childhood education. Private funding totaling $2.13 million is being used in a targeted way to introduce two of four professional learning tracks offered to NYC pre-K sites.

Pre-K Create (arts based) and Pre-K Explore (math based) have made it to over 1,600 classrooms, reaching 37 percent of all enrolled students. Specifically, private funding is supporting capacity building at the classroom and central levels. Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education/School Engagement for The New Victory Theater, a Pre-K Create partner that provides professional development funded by philanthropic support, told us that “being a part of [Create] allows us to have an effect not only on 1,000 pre-K educators but how the arts impact their students. Being able to help teachers who are not necessarily trained in the arts is great.”

In addition to training teachers and leaders in implementation, private funding provides resources for classrooms and evaluation. Over time, this funding will build capacity so that the DOE can support the implementation of these curriculums directly, enabling impact on tens of thousands of our youngest learners annually.

I am so very proud of the partnerships The Fund has facilitated over the past two years, and the way that we have approached the work. It was both humbling and exciting to serve as executive director of an organization as unique, mission-driven, and mission-critical as we are.

The future of The Fund is bright, and remains deeply important. With your vital support, we have the ability to reach 1.1 million students and create systems change in the largest district in the country.

David Belsky