NYC opens first high school for software engineering

In September New York City will open its first public high school dedicated to training kids in software development: The Academy for Software Engineering.

The non-vocational school will have a full academic program designed to prepare students for college, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an announcement. It’s also open to anyone with an interest in the subject, not just students with good grades.

“Today, far too many of our graduates are leaving without the skills they need to succeed beyond high school. Not every student wants to go to college, nor is college right for everyone. But all students should leave prepared to succeed in the next phase of their lives,” Bloomberg said. “It’s a new way of thinking about secondary school based on today’s economic realities.”

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The school was the brainchild of Mike Zamansky, a teacher at Stuyvesant High School. Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures, has committed to financially back the school as well as draw in other investors and industry support. Wilson became involved in the project after meeting Zamanksy a few years ago and discovering there were few computer science and software engineering programs in the city for high schoolers, he said in a blog post.

Frank Thomas, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Education, anticipates that the school will have between 420 and 460 students by 2015, when all four grade levels are enrolled, Adrianne Jeffries reported in BetaBeat. The school will start with a ninth-grade class this year and add on another grade level for the next three years.

The city has other specialized high schools for science, math, the performing arts and other subjects, but it did not have one focused on computer science.

“Obviously the city has put an increased emphasis on technology over the last couple years,” Thomas said in the article, adding that the mayor is interested in bringing graduates into the city’s planned higher education campus on Roosevelt Island. Another benefit of the school would be introducing software engineering to a more diverse student body than is currently studying the subject, he said.

Joel Spolsky, a board member of the new school, said one reason he’s a proponent of the school is that it could can train many excellent software engineers who are not currently at the top of their class academically.

“I think this is the best thing about the school,” he said in a blog post. “A lot of kids are just not interested enough in other academic subjects to get good grades, but they would make great software engineers. A lot of immigrants (especially in New York) are not yet proficient enough in English to get good grades in all their subjects, but they’re going to make great software engineers, too.”

The United States desperately needs more programmers and the nation’s high schools are “not producing even remotely enough programmers to meet the hiring needs of the technology industry,” he added. “One of the reasons the elite U.S. colleges seem to turn out so few computer science majors every year is that they are only drawing from a narrow pool of mostly white and Asian males. Minorities and women are embarrassingly under-represented…. I predict that [the school] will be overwhelmed with applicants and this will be the most popular new school in New York City in years.”

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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