Not every school’s opening brings together the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and titans of finance, but few schools command the lavish praise and private-public support of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone.
Shaun Donovan joined Canada, Education Chancellor Cathie Black, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and donors from Goldman Sachs this morning to break ground on a new charter school and community center, which they lauded as both an educational boon and a community revitalization effort.
The $100 million, 135,000 square foot development is funded by a $60 million federal Department of Education matching grant, and a combined $26 million from Google and Goldman Sachs.
Bloomberg recounted rejecting a job offer from Goldman Sachs when he was looking for his first employment out of graduate school, joking that “I’m not turning you down this time — we will take your money.” His praise of Goldman as a “model of good corporate citizenship” mirrored the steady stream of plaudits for Canada, whom speaker after speaker hailed as a visionary.
Stanley Druckenmiller, chairman of the Harlem Children Zone’s Board, said the corporate largesse that has helped to sustain Harlem Children Zone’s continued growth is a function of student success, saying that “these kids will perform — you level the playing field, they proved it here and the money will roll in.”
After the event, reporters surrounded Black near the dirt pile and tried to squeeze in a few questions.
Black reaffirmed her commitment to school choice–“We want to support options and choices for parents and that’s what this is all about,” she said–before an aide abruptly shut things down. A question about her lackluster approval ratings went unanswered.
Consistent backing for charters by Black, Bloomberg and Black’s predecessor Joel Klein — along with Canada’s widely touted program — has made the city a national model for the charter school movement, a cause the Obama administration has supported through measures such as the $60 million DOE grant.
Like other Harlem Children Zone schools, the development will offer a comprehensive menu of services to students, including free access to healthcare and a social work team. The New York City Housing Authority has partnered with Harlem Children’s Zone on the project, hoping that the school and community center will raise the standard of living in the public housing projects where they are located by bolstering public health and safety.
“We can usher in a new era for the families of the St. Nicholas and the Lincoln Houses by reconnecting this community to the larger community around it,” Donovan said, adding that “there are too many communities where you can predict the lifespan of a child by the zip code that they grow up in.”