staffing up

Children's Aid CEO tapped to lead city's pre-K, community schools efforts

Richard Buery, left, on a 2012 tour of Children's Aid Society's charter school building before opening.

Children’s Aid Society CEO Richard Buery will serve as deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives, a new position in which he will direct the city’s pre-kindergarten expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

Buery will also lead the effort to create 100 new community schools, a de Blasio campaign pledge that has received less attention than pre-K in the mayor’s first month on the job.

The appointment adds even more high-level manpower to the mayor’s plan to expand full-day pre-K, which will involve clearing a significant set of logistical hurdles before schools open this fall. It also continues de Blasio’s pattern of tying his education initiatives closely to City Hall, rather than just the Department of Education.

De Blasio has praised Buery, who has served as the head of Children’s Aid since 2009, and mentioned the Children’s Aid Society model in his campaign platform. Buery was also a member of de Blasio’s transition team.

“He gets the big picture and will make sure that agencies are working together to achieve our biggest priorities,” de Blasio said in a statement.

During his tenure, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had faced criticism for not taking advantage of the city’s control of the school system to better integrate its other services into schools. At today’s announcement, de Blasio emphasized the need for those connections to make community schools, and the pre-K expansion, work citywide.

“So many of the things that we aim to do will change the lives of the people of the city for the better, but they’re not easy to do,” he said. “And, in fact, they don’t fall within the traditional boundaries of government agencies in many cases.”

Children’s Aid Society also operates a charter school in the South Bronx, which opened in 2012. De Blasio has sharply criticized charter schools, but said he wants to see the community schools model expand—ideas that Children’s Aid has combined, providing after-school programs, social services, and health care at Children’s Aid Community Prep Charter.

The school, which had an extended co-location arrangement approved last October, was dropped from a lawsuit filed to halt co-locations because there was no community opposition to the plan, according to Arthur Schwartz, the lawyer who filed the suit. (The nonprofit organization is planning to construct its own building for the school.)

Buery has made it clear that he wants to work with the mayor’s education policies, and was one of the charter leaders developing a framework for charter schools to work with de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

Children’s Aid Society also runs after-school programs in 21 schools and at eight community centers. One year ago, Buery was criticizing the Mayor Michael Bloomberg after he released a preliminary budget cutting similar programs.

“Once again, the mayor’s proposed cuts to after-school and early childhood programs will continue a disappointing trend of shrinking programs for the children in our city who need them most,” he said then.

Now, he’ll be spearheading efforts to expand those programs. “It’s been my mission in life to help families work their way up the economic ladder,” Buery said today. “No agency, no community group can do that alone.”

Fariña was not at the announcement, though the mayor said that she and Buery would have “a close working relationship.”

“Carmen is very enthusiastic and focused on our pre-K and after-school plan, but obviously she has the largest school system in the country to run, and has so many fronts to work on,” de Blasio said. “So she embraces the notion of having a single focused leader for the pre-K and after-school effort out of City Hall.”

By the numbers

As city gears up for year three of its pre-K expansion, applications hold steady

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

More than 68,000 New York City children applied for full-day pre-K this year, jumpstarting the third year of the city’s expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The total number of applications is in line with last year’s total, but the Bronx and Manhattan both saw drops in the number of families that applied. The Bronx had a 5 percent decrease, from 14,280 applications last year to 13,529.

Brooklyn, the borough with the greatest number of families who applied for pre-kindergarten, saw an increase, with 22,046 families applying — up from 21,500 families last year. Staten Island and Queens saw marginal increases.

The number of applications is just shy of de Blasio’s original goal of enrolling 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K. The city pointed out that the number of applications represents three times the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-K before the expansion started in 2014.

De Blasio’s push for universal pre-K has largely been seen as a success, with seats generally meeting or surpassing quality standards. A recent, limited survey found that families said that pre-K saved them money and helped their children learn.

This year, the city has made a few changes to the application process. The application period opened earlier to give families more time to decide where to apply. Families will also receive offers in early May, a month earlier than last year.

Families who have not yet applied will be able to apply to programs with available seats from May 2 to May 20.

pre-k report card

City touts record 68,500 students in pre-K, releases data on program quality

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

The city released new data Friday about the quality of its rapidly expanded pre-kindergarten program, which officials touted as evidence that the program has maintained high standards even as it enrolled nearly 50,000 additional students over the past two years.

With free full-day preschool as the centerpiece of his education agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio has more than tripled enrollment since he took office — leaving some observers to wonder whether the city was trading quantity of seats for quality. The new data, compiled from reviews of a portion of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites that were conducted from 2012 to the present, shows that the quality of New York’s pre-K program is on par with other cities.

The inspected sites on average met or surpassed the national average on a measure of teacher-student interactions, according to review of 555 cites. On a different measure, 77 percent of reviewed sites earned a 3.4 or above on a 7-point scale, which city officials said is the benchmark that programs must reach to have a positive impact on students.

However, Steven Barnett, a professor at Rutgers who is an expert on preschool programs, said that programs should strive to score a five or higher on that scale. The results are promising, he added, but should be seen as a baseline that the city should improve upon.

“They’re OK, but they’re not nearly as good as they should be five years from now,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process.”

Officials also announced that pre-K enrollment reached over 68,500 — just shy of de Blasio’s goal of 70,000 — and said that a recent crop of new students came primarily from low-income backgrounds. Of the 3,000 students who have enrolled since September, 90 percent live in zip codes with incomes below the city’s median.

The pre-K expansion has been one of de Blasio’s only initiatives to garner positive reviews from most observers.

“We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The education department used two observation-based measures for the report.

The first, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, focused on how teachers interact with students. It uses smiling and laughter to gauge school climate and judges the quality of questioning in a class. The second, called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, used room set-up and student hygiene, as well as the quality of instruction.

More than 1,000 pre-K programs were evaluated using the second measure in the past three years. On average, they scored 3.9 on the 7-point scale. City officials said a 3.4 is correlated with “improved student outcomes,” including better reading, math, thinking, and social skills.

Barnett, who has studied New Jersey’s celebrated pre-K expansion, said it’s encouraging that categories like “language” and “interaction” were scored higher than “space and furnishings” or “personal care routines.” That implies physical space and classroom routines weighed down the ratings, not teacher instruction, he said.

New York’s scores align with pre-K programs in other cities. New Jersey’s Abbott program scored a 4.0 on the ECERS-R scale in 2002-03, just 0.1 points higher than New York’s rating.

Not all of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites were evaluated, but soon the city plans to assess all programs. Every three years, each pre-K program should receive both ratings, city officials said.

City officials said they will direct more resources to pre-K programs with low scores on these measures, including extra social workers or more professional development.

They did not offer any specific plans to close struggling pre-K programs based on these observations, though they said that is a possibility in the future. The officials also said they would consider a site’s scores when considering whether to renew providers’ contracts.

For K-12 schools, the city publishes data in annual progress reports for parents. City officials did not say they plan to present pre-K information in a similar way, though all of the data is available on their website.