comings and goings

Head of student enrollment retires from the office she built

The head of student enrollment is retiring from the office she created after overseeing massive changes in how students apply and are accepted to city high schools.

In an email, Chancellor Joel Klein said that Elizabeth Sciabarra, who founded the Office of Student Enrollment in 2003, will retire at the end of this month. Sciabarra, who has worked in schools and for the Department of Education for 37 years, has been the architect overseeing how the chancellor’s policy of high school choice has been enacted.

Her retirement may not come at a great time for families — students’ high school applications are due to the city on December 3 — and Sciabarra is known for her willingness to personally respond to parents’ cries of confusion.

“I would say she’s done an amazing job in transforming the admissions system,” said InsideSchools’ editor Pam Wheaton. “That’s not to say there still aren’t glitches, but when InsideSchools began in 2002, it was a really flawed system.”

In the last eight years, the city has opened more than 200 new high schools, adding pages to the tome that is the high school directory, and necessitating more communication with parents about what their options are. To do this, Sciabarra created the High School Admissions Ambassadors Program, which taught a handful of parents the intricacies of the admissions process and brought them to events where they could help other parents.

At the end of this month, Chief Operating Officer of the Portfolio Planning office Rob Sanft will temporarily replace Sciabarra, who is staying on as a part-time consultant.

Klein’s full email follows:

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to let you know that after 37 years of service to New York City public schools, Elizabeth Sciabarra will retire later this month. Liz currently serves as CEO of the Office of Student Enrollment, which she founded in 2003. Rob Sanft, who served as Liz’s Chief Operating Officer from 2004-2010 and is currently COO for the Division of Portfolio Planning (DPP), will lead the Office of Student Enrollment on an interim basis. We are undertaking a search for a new leader. Liz will advise DPP as a part-time consultant to assist in the transition to new leadership.

Liz began her career at Brooklyn Technical High School, where she served as an English teacher, then as Coordinator of Student Affairs, and then as Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services. Liz later served as principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island for almost ten years before becoming Deputy Superintendent of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools, Deputy Superintendent of High Schools, and finally Superintendent of Selective Schools.

Since founding the Office of Student Enrollment in 2003, Liz has overseen enrollment services for students in pre-kindergarten through high school, including pre-kindergarten admissions, kindergarten enrollment, elementary school gifted and talented placement, middle school choice, high school admissions, placement and transfers, and NCLB Public School Choice. Under Liz’s leadership, the Office of Student Enrollment developed the nation’s premier high school choice system. Most recently, Liz launched the High School Admissions Ambassadors Program, designed to teach interested parents and stakeholders about the high school admissions process and to engage them in high school admissions events across the city.

Beginning November 22, Rob will serve as Interim Acting CEO for Enrollment. Susan Cofield, Executive Director of Manhattan Enrollment, will take on additional responsibilities to oversee pre-k through 5th grade enrollment and gifted and talented enrollment. Sandy Ferguson, who currently leads our middle school enrollment, will now oversee 6th through 12th grade enrollment. Together, these three leaders bring more than 58 years of experience working with New York City public schools. I am confident they will successfully lead this year’s admissions and choice processes.

We are grateful that Liz will continue to support this enrollment cycle and remain connected to our work. Liz has shown an unrelenting drive to put children first, and has been an inspiration and a model for all of our staff. She has served as an ambassador for reform and a dedicated advocate for students. Please join me in thanking Liz for her years of service and immeasurable contribution to the children of New York City.

Sincerely,

Joel Klein

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.