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News and Speeches

Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott Announces the Launch of the Essential Allies Innovation Challenge


Challenge Offers iZone Schools the Opportunity to Build Stronger and More Effective Relationships with Parents and Families

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott today announced the launch of the Essential Allies Challenge. The challenge asks New York City schools to partner with parents to imagine, design, and develop innovative ways of strengthening the relationship between schools and families to support student achievement. Launched during the Department’s third annual Parents as Partners Week, the Challenge is facilitated by the DOE’s Innovation Zone (iZone), in collaboration with the Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE).

“When schools and families work together to support learning, everyone benefits,” said Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott. “The Essential Allies Challenge encourages parent involvement and establishes effective collaborations with families to support the academic success of our students.”

“This Challenge is just one of many examples of how the New York City Department of Education is leading the nation in crafting creative solutions to solve educational issues,” said Deputy Chancellor David Weiner. “Through the Essential Allies Challenge schools are thinking outside-the box, taking the lead in the design process and developing their own unique solutions.”

“We are excited to reimagine what partnerships between schools and families could look like in the 21st century,” said Executive Director of the Division of Family and Community Engagement, Jesse Mojica. “The solutions that will come from this Challenge may inspire new models of engagement from which many New York City public schools, families, and especially students could benefit.”

The Challenge is open to all 280 iZone schools, a community of New York City schools committed to personalizing learning to meet the needs, motivations and strengths of individual students. Schools that apply to the Challenge are asked to develop an innovative idea and an implementation plan based on a user-centered design model (UCD). This model guides schools—the “designers”—in creating personalized solutions that meet the unique needs of parents, the “end users.”

Schools are required to demonstrate the feasibility of ideas, identify clear indicators that will track progress, and employ UCD methods to gather valuable feedback from families and the school community. Applicants must also show their strategies’ potential to enhance the school experience for families, students and teachers.

A panel consisting of teachers, DOE experts and parents from iZone schools will review and select finalists. Those selected will attend a Challenge Collaborative, where they will receive personalized expertise and consultation to help refine their proposals. At the end of the Challenge, a select number of about six to twelve schools will receive DOE support and up to $15,000 in private funding to put their methods into practice.