Thursday is the first day of school, and although it's a big day for all of the city's 1.1 million students, there is one group in particular that will be in the spotlight. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
It will be the first first day of school for Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, but inevitably, the real stars Thursday will the 51,500 pre-kindergarten students entering school for the first time, 30,000 more than attended last year.
"This is going to be a historic and important moment for this city. And for the families of those over 50,000 children, it's going to be a fantastic day," de Blasio said.
The vast program was built quickly, over the course of just a few months. The pre-K classes are spread out across 1,700 different sites and involve partnerships between the Department of Education and more than 1,000 nonprofit organizations.
In the rush to get the program up and running, there were some last-minute problems.
"The paramount concern is getting it right, making sure these sites are ready to go, that they are up to code, that they're safe, that they're healthy, that everything is in place for our children," de Blasio said. "So nine sites will not open this year. Thirty-six sites are experiencing a delay. "
The nine sites that won't open were set to serve 265 students. By Wednesday evening, City Hall said it was still working to find alternative programs for two-thirds of them.
"Either because of health and safety, or qualitative issues, those programs should not open,"
Among the problem programs is Rainbow Montessori in the Bronx, which is already under city investigation. However, as of Wednesday, its pre-K director was telling families she still plans to open.
As part of these city checks, some 3,000 new pre-K staff members have undergone fingerprinting, and 245 have been disqualified based on the results of their criminal background checks.
"If we didn't find problems, that means we weren't being blunt about the reality and transparency. We did find problems," de Blasio said.
As for the program's long-term value, the de Blasio administration is setting aside $2 million to see if it improves students' academic performance.