Upgrading Computer Science Education

Cornell Tech Investment In PS/IS 217 Paying Dividends

Updated 2 years ago Peter McCarthy

A highlight of this week's Task Force meeting between Cornell Tech and the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition was a panel discussion covering the extensive, effective impact the Teacher in Residence Program is having on computer science education at PS/IS 217.

Left to right: Diane Levvitt, Sr. Dir. K-12 Education at Cornell; PS/IS Principal Mandana Beckman; PTA President Erin Olavesen; Meg Ray, Teacher in Residence
Left to right: Diane Levvitt, Sr. Dir. K-12 Education at Cornell; PS/IS Principal Mandana Beckman; PTA President Erin Olavesen; Meg Ray, Teacher in Residence

A panel led by Cornell Tech's Senior Director of K-12 Education Diane Levitt gave a sparse audience an overview of the Computer Science Teacher in Residence Program, now in its second year at PS/IS 217.

Although her leadership was cited in making the program take hold with teachers and students, Principal Mandana Beckman gave credit to Mayor Bill de Blasio's declaration that all schools must have effective Computer Science programs by 2025.

While Beckman took de Blasio's statement as marching orders, Cornell Tech's Levitt, who has wide experience in the field, sees her as well as the school's staff and students as pioneers.

Meg Ray, Teacher in Residence at PS/IS 217 (and several other city schools) invests a day every week to working with teachers to help with CS tools and training. 

Her take on success, "It's not just for teachers to learn a new content area, but that they feel enough ownership to use it naturally and integrate with other subject areas," a point of view consistent with the Milstein Program, just announced as a joint venture between Cornell campuses here and in Ithaca.

The idea is to lift computer science out of an isolated discipline and filter it into other phases of traditional learning, starting from a very young age.

That Cornell Tech has become widely active within the Roosevelt Island community is a boon for the school, giving it exceptional access in an area where city schools have historically fallen short.

The head start gives birth to a valuable downstream product: an increased number of teachers in the system who have the necessary skills for teaching computer science.

As explained by Levitt, schools offering CS classes in the past were often dependent on a single qualified teacher. When that teacher left, the classes went with her. PS/IS 217's and Cornell Tech's combined efforts reduce the chances of that fate from being repeated as frequently.

PTA Principal Erin Olavesen and a team of three teachers invigorated the panel discussion with active, real life examples of how the program has influenced them as well as students.

Departure of a Friend

Andrew Winter in September
Andrew Winter in September
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A man who many of us got to know and admire as he led Cornell Tech facility development from the start, including shepherding plans through the ULURP, Andrew Winter is gone.

Winter will join Sidewalk Labs, a Alphabet company created to improve the quality of life in cities.

During our media walk through at Cornell Tech in September, I asked Winter about his future. His career reflects a professional who builds great urban things, but doesn't stick around to manage them.

Before signing on with Cornell Tech, he was the founding director of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office of Capital Project Development, which included work on High Line Park and the revitalization of Coney Island.

He was circumspect when I told him that staying, now that the campus was up and running, didn't seem in character. I was right, but his work here will be felt positively for decades to come.

Diana Allegretti with charts showing current and future construction.
Diana Allegretti with charts showing current and future construction.

Filling in as Director of Design and Construction is Diana Allegretti, a veteran offering continuity after serving under Winter.

Allegretti led the Community Coalition and visitors through an update on current construction, including two years of building out the campus hotel and Verizon Education Center, both of which are expect to open toward the end of 2019.

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