Mayor de Blasio Announces Community Centered Public Private Challenge Across 5 Boroughs

October 3, 2019

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza today announced the Imagine Schools NYC Challenge, a public-private partnership to create 20 new schools and transform 20 existing schools across New York City into schools of the future. The XQ Institute will support plans for both new and existing high schools, while Robin Hood will support new schools across all grade levels. Launching with an initial investment of $32 million in public and private funds, Imagine Schools NYC will be a model for community-driven school innovation within the City’s Equity and Excellence for All agenda.

“This is a big endorsement of public education in New York City. With this support, we’re going to help educators, students and communities come together to design new schools and re-design existing ones that will challenge our kids and increase academic rigor. I want to see great schools in every neighborhood,” said Mayor de Blasio.

“We are successful when we do things with communities, not to communities or for communities. We are changing the paradigm with Imagine Schools NYC – coming together with educators, students, families, and community partners to design radically different schools from the ground up, and to redesign existing schools to meet the demands of the future. Additionally, this first-of-its-kind public-private partnership will impact not only the 40 “Imagine” and “Reimagine” Schools, but also inform our work to innovate and advance equity and academic excellence across all 1,800 of New York City’s public schools. We’re ready to go, and we know New Yorkers are ready to answer the call,” said Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza.

“Community-driven design teams will build upon the strengths New York City is known for—best-in-class leaders, teachers, and programs,” said Russlynn Ali, Co-Founder and CEO of XQ. “The City’s deep commitment to community agency gives school teams the tools, permission, and flexibility to think and act boldly so all students get what they need—and ensure those visions are sustained. That is why we are so excited to partner in this effort to harness the power of community to transform City high schools into engines of excellence and equity.”

“We are eager to work with the City and Department of Education to launch new schools with new visionary leaders at the helm who are well-poised to serve the children in our most under-resourced communities, and to expand the sharing of effective practices between charter and district schools,” said Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood. “We know how critical this work is to increasing economic mobility in New York City.”

This initiative will produce at least 20 new (“Imagine”) or transformed (“Reimagine”) high schools, with at least one new high school in each of the five boroughs. The remaining 20 schools will be a mix of elementary and middle schools. All 40 Imagine NYC Schools will serve as models for the system. They will be innovative, academically rigorous, community-driven, inclusive, and intentional in their commitment to serve all students. The 20 new schools will not have selective admissions. The City is committed to developing all 40 Imagine NYC schools and funding their implementation and is actively seeking additional funders to join this exciting initiative. Private funds for this initiative will go through the Fund for Public Schools.

Through the Imagine Schools NYC Challenge, educators, students, families, and community partners will be empowered to co-construct unique proposals for schools of the future. Across the City, design teams will come together to develop proposals for new or existing schools with a focus on Equity and Excellence for All.

Imagine Schools NYC will focus on the transformation of the student learning experience. Examples of the kinds of actions school design teams could propose include: authentic, real-world learning (internships, apprenticeships, college courses and visits, projects in the community); innovative themes; college, community and industry partnerships; changes to curriculum to align with interesting, high-skill, high-demand sectors; focus on arts, civic engagement, technology or a STEM subject.

“We know our schools are more successful when parents, educators, students and community are at the table, deciding what their school needs to engage, support and enhance education. We need buy-in from the children and adults in the building as well as the community at large,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

“We have seen it time and again – whether expanding the largest computer science education program in the country, or providing a record number of students with internships and early work experiences – when the private sector partners with our public education system the big winners are students, families and communities,” said Darren Bloch, Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships. “This partnership with the Fund for Public Schools, the Department of Education and these prolific education funders, will help advance a powerful new model for designing public schools around educational best practices through a community-driven approach. We are deeply appreciative to have the XQ Institute and Robin Hood working with us to achieve this ambitious goal.”

“New Yorkers have been clear: they want academically challenging schools, with real world learning opportunities like internships, high tech training, and serious, fun pathways to college, strong careers, and amazing futures. Students and educators have also been clear: they want schools that are diverse, inclusive, and supportive of all students. Today Chancellor Carranza, listening to educators, students and parents, is issuing a call to action to all of New York City: Let’s develop great schools together,” said Karin Goldmark, Deputy Chancellor for School Planning and Development.

XQ Institute

The Department of Education will partner with XQ Institute, a national leader in transformational high school design, on XQ+NYC, the initiative’s work in grades 9-12.

XQ’s school-design process empowers educators, students, and community members to create high schools where all students realize their full potential—schools that are academically challenging, authentically diverse, and aligned to the skills and knowledge young people need to be successful in an ever-changing world.

Based on research and expert practice, the process helps teams engage thoughtfully and creatively with big priorities for high school design and redesign—like listening to the voices of students, getting a diverse cross-section of the community involved, activating teachers and other educators, and looking beyond the day-to-day constraints that often stifle innovative thinking. These schools will manifest key design principles of excellent, equitable high schools: a strong mission and culture; meaningful, engaged learning; caring, trusting relationships; youth voice and choice; community partnerships; and smart use of time, space, and technology.

Dynamic plans for new high schools as well as transformational models for existing schools will emerge from this effort. XQ Institute has committed $10 million to support the implementation of up to 10 high school plans, with the goal of joining XQ’s national cohort of community-developed schools – models for driving equity, excellence, and innovation.

Robin Hood

Robin Hood, New York City’s largest poverty-fighting nonprofit, is partnering with the Department of Education in two ways: First, Robin Hood will commit up to $5 million to support the creation of up to10 new Imagine Schools dedicated to serving the most historically under-resourced students in New York City. Robin Hood will partner with the Department of Education on a rigorous selection process resulting in school designs with the greatest promise of eliminating opportunity gaps for underserved students.

Second, Robin Hood will support both current and new district school leaders in driving transformational change through a $1 million expansion of the DOE’s district-charter Partnership work centered on proven, effective professional development.

Student and Community-Centered Design Process

Starting immediately, and continuing over the next three years, design teams have the opportunity to apply to become Imagine Schools.

Design teams, some of which have already begun forming across the City, will work together to submit initial concept proposals starting in October 2019. Selected teams will advance to additional application rounds in Winter and Spring 2020, with the first round of Imagine and Reimagine school designs announced in May 2020.

The application is available online, and the DOE has a robust outreach strategy to ensure all communities are aware of and apply to participate in this opportunity. So far, through the spring and summer, the DOE has invited principals to attend design day sessions. Department representatives have attended community events and distributed flyers in neighborhoods across the City to raise awareness. The DOE will use its social media, website, parent and family email lists, and parent leadership bodies to encourage teams to participate in the coming weeks.

“It is always a good day when there are investments made in public schools. Imagine Schools NYC is a community-driven initiative addressing many, many needs and is a game-changer for students. Educators, students, parents, and community stakeholders will be able to develop innovative school models that will provide real-world educational experiences for our students,” said Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair of the Committee on Education. “It’s time to build curricula around the diverse strengths of students and in alignment with 21st-century opportunities and needs. I look forward to touring an Imagine School in the near future.”

“This is a bold and forward-thinking initiative where students and communities are called to interact and design their own schools and educational futures. Excellence will emerge when all voices are at the table. As dedicated agents of design learning, design thinking, and implementing, we anticipate the powerful school environments that will come from partnering with designers and creative educators.  Thank you for bringing design practice to its best purpose and position—to this invitation to all New Yorkers to participate in building the platform for creating extraordinary schools.” said Frances Bronet, President, Pratt Institute.

“Simply stated, re-imagining schools that lift student’s voice, promote intellectual curiosity, embrace community partnerships, and position students to succeed in the 21st-century marketplace, are all key ingredients for success,” said NeQuan C. McLean, President CEC 16.

“We are excited by the limitless possibilities of the Imagine Schools NYC initiative. Highlighting voices of students, families and the community alongside educators to expand our understanding of schools outside of a physical building. This opportunity to envision schools that challenge and radically change what education can be – prioritizing knowledge and embedding schools as the heart of the community. We are all in!” said Sheree Gibson, Co-Chair, Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC).

“We believe that Imagine Schools has the power to create meaningful learning experiences that extend beyond the traditional classroom walls whereby students own and direct their own learning,” said Fiorella Cabrejos, principal of Fordham Leadership Academy.

“What our system needs isn’t just new schools—it’s schools that listen to all the voices that are part of the system – the students, parents, teachers, and surrounding communities – and create radical change in response. The Imagine Schools NYC initiative has created a path for this kind of innovation in school design, encouraging opportunities for school design teams to engage with their communities. It’s amazing to see how excited people get to share their ideas about school design. The Imagine Schools NYC initiative is what our city- and our school system overall – needs,” said Meredith Hill, Assistant Principal of Columbia Secondary School.

“The Imagine Schools initiative brought students like me to the table, empowering us to own our education and create a better one for future generations. Student’s voice is critical to changing the way we learn, and I’m honored to have been a part of this much needed, innovative partnership,” said Makai Bryan, a 12th-grade student in Manhattan.

More information on the process is available at

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