Mayor Bill de Blasio gathered a group of nearly 70 influential advocates and education leaders Thursday to begin forming plans to create 100 community schools during his first term.

Most were part of the city’s Community Schools Advisory Board, which is made up of city officials, principals, parent advocates, and corporate figures and charged with developing a strategic plan by this fall. The members provided a diverse and powerful show of support for the mayor’s agenda, in a move that resembled de Blasio’s approach to his push for expanded pre-kindergarten earlier this year.

At the committee’s first meeting Thursday, de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña spoke to a group of that included some of those leaders. Many of them, de Blasio noted, had been pushing for more community schools in the city since before his trip during his mayoral campaign to Cincinnati, whose schools are primarily community hubs.

“We are turning to the people who know how to make these models work best and have decades of experience serving communities across this city,” de Blasio said.

Last month, de Blasio announced the city would spend $52 million in state funds to convert 40 schools into community centers over the next several years, building on a campaign promise to start 100 by 2018. Those schools will have some combination of additional mental and physical health services, nutrition and fitness programs, job training programs, and other resources meant to serve students and local residents.

The advisory board brings together some key political figures, like close ally City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito; Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly; and Lester Young, vice chancellor of the Board of Regents, along with education advocates Zakiyah Ansari of the Coalition for Educational Justice and Ocynthia Williams of the United Parents of Highbridge.

Several principals from community schools, like P.S. 6’s leader Wanda Soto and P.S. 65’s leader Rafael Morales, are also joining the committee, along with Ife Lenard, the principal at the Children’s Aid Society Community School. Anne Williams-Isom, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, was also tapped.

At Thursday's meeting, Chancellor Carmen Fariña praised community schools as a way to raise students' confidence.
At Thursday’s meeting, Chancellor Carmen Fariña praised community schools as a way to raise students’ confidence.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Ellen McIntire

On Thursday, de Blasio called his plans to launch 100 community schools “ambitious” and “intense.” But he said they were a way to fight inequality by providing schools with a way to address the non-academic needs of their students.

Fariña said she planned to work with principals at potential community schools to ensure they would be committed to turning the school into a place where families would feel comfortable and welcomed.

“A good community school, in my opinion, is going to look at what some of the programs are, typically in the after-school and Saturday role, that are going to increase student self confidence,” she said.

The advisory board will spend the next several months brainstorming ways to quickly launch the programs and how to increase parent involvement at potential sites.