Big money

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces computer science initiative fundraising is ‘ahead of schedule’

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Mayor Bill de Blasio learns about computer science from a student at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx.

The city has raised $20 million to spread computer science education across New York City, reaching the halfway mark of its private fundraising goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The mayor’s “Computer Science for All” program is one his flashiest education initiatives. It’s a pledge to give all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students access to computer science education in elementary, middle and high school by 2025.

When the initiative was announced last year, it faced several obstacles. Chief among them were fundraising and recruiting enough computer science teachers. On Thursday, de Blasio sought to assuage both of these concerns and argued the program is on track to reach every nook and cranny of the city.

“We would never accept the notion that some kids get to learn math and other don’t. Some kids get to learn the alphabet and others don’t,” said de Blasio at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the Bronx. “But let’s face it. It was a norm that computer science education was, in many ways, considered an elite activity. We have to break through that.”

Last September, de Blasio had raised only about 30 percent of the $40 million in private funds necessary to bring computer science to every school in the city. Today, the mayor reported that number has risen by $9 million, including a $2.5 million donation by Math for America, a group that gives fellowships to STEM teachers so they can share their knowledge and skills with others.

The sizable spike puts the program’s private funding “well ahead of schedule,” de Blasio said after sitting in on a class at the school, which recently added AP computer science.

The city has trained 450 teachers so far, de Blasio said, but there is much work to do before the city reaches its 5,000 teacher goal.

Reaching that many educators is also a matter of funding, said Fred Wilson, the founder of New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and a driving force behind the city’s “Computer Science for All” initiative.

“The issue is not getting the teachers excited to do it. I think the issue is having the funding to be able to pay for the professional development,” Wilson said. “The demand is there, we’ve just got to supply it.”

Other schools may face a lack of technology infrastructure, such as inadequate Wi-Fi. City officials said that in addition to private money, the program will leverage substantial public funds. Some of that public money will go toward making sure schools have the proper infrastructure and hardware, they said.

In all, 246 schools are involved in the program this year. That includes a broad range of efforts that fall under the city’s computer science umbrella. Some schools have new, large-scale computer science programs, like AP computer science or the city’s multi-year Software Engineering Program. Others have smaller-scale efforts, such as trained teachers who will integrate computer science lessons into typical school days.

Despite de Blasio’s assertion that progress is moving rapidly, earlier in the day City Comptroller Scott Stringer criticized the initiative for its decade-long timeframe for implementation.

De Blasio rejected Stringer’s logic on Thursday, arguing that producing a quality, effective program takes years.

“The reality is, it takes tremendous effort to prepare something that’s going to reach every single one of those children,” de Blasio said.

Hello Again

Debora Scheffel chosen by acclamation to fill State Board of Ed vacancy

State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A Republican vacancy committee unanimously selected Debora Scheffel to fill the opening left by Pam Mazanec on the State Board of Education.

Mazanec, a staunch defender of parental rights and school choice who represented the 4th Congressional District, resigned at the end of January to focus on her other obligations. Scheffel previously represented the 6th Congressional District on the board but lost that seat in 2016 to Democrat Rebecca McClellan.

McClellan’s narrow victory gave control of the board to Democrats for the first time in 46 years. Scheffel, who serves as dean of education at Colorado Christian University, moved to Douglas County, and ran unsuccessfully for school board there in 2017.

Scheffel’s selection does not change the balance of power on the state board because she replaces another Republican. Scheffel faced no opposition at the vacancy committee meeting, which took place Saturday in Limon.

Scheffel has said she wants to continue Mazanec’s work on behalf of rural schools and in support of parent and student choice, as well as work to protect student data privacy, a cause she previously championed on the board.

The district takes in all of the eastern Plains, as well as the cities of Longmont, Greeley, and Castle Rock.

the search

As chancellor search continues, Weingarten dismisses Orlando schools chief as ‘Joel Klein type’

PHOTO: Dr. Barbara Jenkins 2013 Award Video/YouTube
Barbara Jenkins has been floated as a possible candidate for New York City Schools Chancellor.

After several months of searching for a new leader for the nation’s largest school system, Barbara Jenkins, the superintendent of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, emerged this week as a contender for the job.

City Hall is still courting the Orlando schools chief, according to a source. But there are several big reasons why Jenkins might not be New York City’s next school’s chancellor — as well as some unusual behind-the-scenes discussion that could help draft Jenkins or other out-of-state superintendents.

One is that Jenkins has voiced concerns about taking the job, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the search. Some said she signaled weeks ago that she was not interested.

Another is that she may not have the union support that has proven valuable to Mayor Bill de Blasio. She definitely doesn’t have the support of Randi Weingarten, the influential leader of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten told Chalkbeat this week that she was “surprised” to hear Jenkins’ name surface, and compared her to leaders of the so-called education reform movement who have had contentious relationships with teacher unions.

I think that Barbara Jenkins is much more in line with the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee types than she is in line with the Carmen Fariña types,” Weingarten said, comparing the polarizing former schools chiefs of New York City and Washington, D.C. to the city’s current schools chancellor.

Fariña, who has held the top job since 2014 and announced she was stepping down in December, was brought in partly to undo Klein’s policies and has taken a friendly stance toward the city’s United Federation of Teachers. (UFT President Michael Mulgrew declined to talk about discussions he has had with City Hall about Fariña’s successor.)

A third potential issue: compensation. Jenkins made $310,000 in 2017, according to the Orlando Sentinel, while Fariña’s salary is roughly $235,000. A move could mean Jenkins, who is in her late 50s, would have to forfeit some of her future pension, after spending years in the same district, and contend with the high cost of living in New York City.

Those factors could be a problem for many potential candidates, says Kathryn Wylde, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for New York City, which serves as the business community’s lobbying group. That’s given rise to conversations about whether the chancellor’s compensation could be supplemented — perhaps by a third party, such as an individual who is interested in education. (The Partnership for New York City is not working to find additional funds, she said.)

“It’s understandable that it would be difficult to attract somebody to the city because of our high costs,” Wylde said. “Perhaps that’s something we ought to be trying to address.”

Still, Jenkins generally fits within the profile de Blasio has sketched out for the next schools chief. She has years of experience running a school system with over 200,000 students, and the district has earned praise under her leadership. If chosen, she would be the first black woman to lead New York City’s school system.

Jenkins and Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to comment.

Patrick Wall contributed reporting.