City Takes a Role in Planning Four New Charters

Department of Education officials have been involved in designing and planning four new charter schools as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Expanded Success Initiative, which aims to help improve graduation rates and employment opportunities for low-income black and Latino males.

The four charters, which will be called ReSolve, have applied to the New York State Education Department to open in 2014 in East Harlem, the South Bronx, Jamaica, Queens, and Brooklyn's Brownsville and East New York neighborhoods. If approved next winter, they would be the first charters to open with so much help from the Department of Education.

"They've never really incubated a charter," said James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter Center. "I give the mayor a lot of credit for trying something new."

The schools are part of Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, which is supported by George Soros's Open Society Foundations and Bloomberg Philanthropies. However, the mayor said, funding for the schools will come entirely from the Open Society Foundations and not his own charity.

"Bloomberg Philanthropies had nothing to do with it," said the mayor, during a press conference in Lower Manhattan.

The mayor addressed the topic following a New York Post article that suggested he was personally funding the charter schools.

The educational arm of the Young Men's Initiative, called the Expanded Success Initiative, is what's funded by the Open Societies Foundation.

"It’s accurate to say that the city and mayor put together a special program, which includes opportunities to open new schools," said mayoral spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua. "Four of those are charter schools and those applications have been submitted to the state."

The mayor first announced his plans for the charters during his State of the City speech in January. He said a fellowship through the Expanded Success Initiative would recruit and train 15-18 individuals to design models for eight new schools, half of which would be charters. This program won a grant of $2.5 million from Open Society, which will spend another $1.5 million on activities including staff development for all eight schools once the models have been selected.

A state education department spokesman said the Open Society Foundations currently gives financial support to one charter school run by the Harlem Children's Zone.

Despite the high-profile support from Bloomberg, and the assistance of several D.O.E. officials on the ReSolve charter school planning documents, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said it was not unusual for the city to help outside partners develop new schools.

"We worked in developing schools all the time" he said, pointing to Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-Tech), plus the Harbor School and the new Academy for Software Engineering near Union Square.

The lead applicant on paperwork submitted to the state was Dr. Edward Fergus-Arcia, Deputy Director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University. The proposal said the charters would offer "workplace learning opportunities" through apprenticeships and offer early college experiences that include "family engagement and financial planning." The schools would have a goal of making sure all graduates finished at least two years of college or career apprenticeships.

All four of the ReSolve charters would be run by the same board. The proposed trustees included Melanie Hartzog, the former family services coordinator for the city's deputy mayor of health and human services.

Pedro Noguera, an education professor at N.Y.U. who has criticized some of Bloomberg's education reforms, said he supports the project. "I think that charters offer an excellent vehicle for serving populations that have not been traditionally well served by public schools," he said by email. "The flexibility in hiring will be especially helpful. I know that Dr. Fergus is also thinking of forming alliances with neighborhood-based CBOs to support these new schools."