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P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans

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Q&A: David Noah Founds New Computer Science High School in the Bronx

This summer, David Noah is leaving his current job to plan, design, and launch a brand new, computer science high school in the South Bronx. The son of immigrants from Iraq and Greece, David has spent the majority of his time working in education since he joined the Paul & Daisy Soros community in 2008. This summer, he leaves his role at Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City, where he founded and led a middle school in East Harlem, which is now among the top middle schools in the state. 
While the new school won't open its doors until 2018, we wanted to find out more about the new project and what’s in store.
Congratulations on this new high school, David! How long has this project been in the works?
The project was launched by the Urban Assembly (UA), an organization that opens and supports public high schools in NYC. There's a real need for great career-focused schools, here in the city and nationally, but there just aren't that many great models out there.  
 
I've been interested in "CTE" or "Career Technical Education" for a long time. UA was looking for a founder to design and launch this new school, and I was looking for an opportunity to create and build a school that could deliver opportunity for kids who really need it, and that could—I hope—contribute something to the national conversation on the future of schooling.
 
How did you decide on starting a high school focused on computer science? And why the South Bronx?

By many accounts, CTE is the future of high school education. We want college to be the default choice for kids...but that means it has to be a choice. That means we also have to provide kids with other, good choices.  Right now, roughly 36% of adults have a college degree (associates or better).  Even if we grow that number dramatically...say, 50%, what about the other half? What are we offering them in high school to prepare them for adulthood? 

Studying computer science, and related fields, will provide kids with a great avenue to college. But, it will also provide kids with an avenue to a viable career, if they choose to postpone college or decide college isn't for them.

Why the South Bronx?  Two reasons. The families with the fewest resources, for example, many new immigrant families, deserve the best schools, the best educational opportunities. I hope to contribute to that kind of opportunity in the Mott Haven community. Second, there are a lot of assumptions about what kids can--and especially can't--do in places like the Bronx or Harlem.  It's important to challenge those assumptions with real proof points.

How big will the high school be and who will it serve? Where in the South Bronx will it be?
It will open with a little more than 100 freshman, and eventually grow to about 420. It will be located in Community School District 7, in Mott Haven.
 
This will be the second school you’ve founded. What was the biggest lesson you learned from the first project?

Culture is the first and most important task. If you don't build a positive culture and a culture of hard work with adults and kids, nothing else matters (not curriculum, resources, philosophy, even talent).  

Also, I learned that running schools is really, really, really hard. I expect to keep learning that lesson in new ways for as long as I do this work.

 Are there ways that Fellows can support you in the upcoming months?

Yes! Yes! Yes! If you know great people, send them my way. I need all the help and advice I can get from educators, programmers, or potential industry partners. Really, I want to talk to anyone who is willing to offer advice or help, or who is interested in being involved in any way (as a mentor for kids, as a guest speaker, as a potential board member). ∎