By Mayor Bloomberg
Last week, the doors of our public schools opened for the new school year – and many of those schools were brand new. From Cypress Hills in Brooklyn to Long Island City in Queens, we cut the ribbons on 23 new buildings containing more than 13,000 new seats – another big step forward in our ambitious, ongoing drive to modernize and expand our public school system.
These new facilities couldn’t be coming at a better time. When I took office in 2002, half of the public school buildings in our city were of World War II-vintage or older, and many of them needed to be replaced or extensively repaired. Overcrowding forced some high schools with big enrollments had to operate on split shifts. Hundreds of other schools throughout the city didn’t have the modern facilities that our students deserve.
To meet these enormous needs, we launched the largest school construction effort in our history – a five-year, $13.1 billion capital program, funded 50/50 by the State and City. So far we’ve created more than 82,000 new seats, putting us on track to increase classroom capacity by more than 110,000 by 2012. That’s greater than the entire enrollment in Baltimore’s public school system. In addition, we’ve also built gyms, labs, libraries, and other essential facilities.
But we’re not just building more schools and facilities; we’re building them faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively than ever, without any loss in quality. That’s a direct result of our public school reforms. By winning control of the system, we’ve made all agencies accountable to one person: the mayor. And with those clear lines of authority in place, we’ve been able to completely overhaul a notoriously slow, inefficient, and wasteful school construction process. We’ve ended the bureaucratic in-fighting and red tape that had discouraged top contractors from even bidding on school construction jobs. We’ve also made sure that projects are selected not on the basis of which communities have the best political connections, but which communities need these new projects the most.
Accountability in the schools also now extends right into the classrooms, and it’s producing results there, too. It’s why our teachers and principals are better qualified, and better paid, than ever before. It’s why we now have parent coordinators in our schools, whose job is to help parents stay informed and involved. It’s why students in many grades continue to make dramatic gains on State reading and math tests. It’s why, after years when the graduation rate had stagnated, it has climbed every year since 2002 and is now more than 20% higher than it was seven years ago. And it’s also why Black and Hispanic students are leading the way and closing the racial achievement gap in our classrooms.
We have come a long way in our education reforms over the past seven years, but we are not about to slow down. We are going to keep making progress and continue building on our partnership with principals, teachers, and parents so that we achieve the dream we all share: A high-quality school system that puts children first, and that provides them with the instruction, support, and facilities they need in order to thrive and succeed.