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De Blasio tabs team tasked with making pre-K plan a reality

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s ever-expanding transition team just got a little bigger.

De Blasio today introduced the six-person group in charge of figuring out how to make a reality out of his campaign’s boldest pledge, to provide full-day pre-kindergarten to nearly 70,000 four-year-olds. De Blasio first announced he would convene the group last week in a speech to build support for his plan.

Much attention up to now has been focused on how de Blasio wants to fund the expansion, an income tax hike that first needs approval from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And while that part of the plan remains in doubt, a series of logistical hurdles also await de Blasio even after he secures funding from Albany.

De Blasio’s “all-star” working group will be tasked with advising him on those challenges. They include finding and renovating space to make room for 50,000 students who aren’t currently in full-day programs, hiring new teachers to teach those students, and setting standards to ensure New York City’s pre-K programs deliver a high-quality education.

“To achieve that pre-K initiative, we need some of the best minds in the city to start work right now on developing the practical approaches of making sure that we’re ready to go as soon as legislation is approved in Albany,” de Blasio said at a press conference inside of a crowded Head Start classroom in East Harlem.

It was one of the few public appearances that de Blasio has made since being elected a month ago and lacked details about more significant decisions, such as who he’ll pick for chancellor and when that choice will be made. De Blasio has created several groups to help him make those decisions and prepare for his new job, including a core transition team, a 60-person transition committee, and another big group that is planning his inauguration.

Responding to critics who say he is backing away from comments he made during the campaign about publicly screening his chancellor candidates, de Blasio said that it was an “open process” that was already underway.

“That was clearly a reference to an unfortunate chapter in our city’s history related to Cathie Black and I am totally sure that we will never have a situation like that again on my watch,” de Blasio said. “We are talking to a number of individuals with extraordinary careers in education and we are accepting nominations through our…large transition committee and through our web site.”

The early education group is made up of five women and one man who have decades of combined experience working in early education and social welfare services: De Blasio’s transition co-chair, Jennifer Jones-Austin, a former official for the Administration for Children’s Services; Josh Wollack, a former City Council staffer for de Blasio and director of Children’s Aid Society’s early education programs; Sherry Cleary, who runs an early education professional development program at CUNY, Elba Montalvo, founder and CEO of the Committee for Hispanic Children and Families and a foster care advocate; and Gail Nayowith, executive director for SCO Family of Services.

De Blasio said that the group would be responsible for coming up with answers to many lingering questions about how his administration will implement the full-day pre-k expansion, though he offered some of his own hints.

He said he’d be able to find teachers who have been unable to get jobs in Department of Education schools because of hiring freezes. He also suggested that one option to find space could be in city-owned school buildings, which the Bloomberg administration has used primarily to open new K-12 schools.