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Because the DOE contracts with bus companies anyway, running additional routes during the school day can be done for very little cost, according to DOE officials. The department has promised buses for students at Bronx Early College Academy, which, instead of moving into a permanent location near its partner college, Lehman College, will move even farther away next year.
"We try to be flexible to allow schools to accomplish the programs they want to achieve," says John White, the DOE official in charge of deciding where schools are located.
Even with the DOE's help, Horowitz says, the fact that her school and the College of Staten Island still work together to develop new programs—such as an all-day college immersion for the high school's first senior class this year—took hard work. "That was from a conscious effort on both parts," Horowitz says. "The partnership is only as strong as the commitment from both partners."
Like Horowitz, DOE officials say commitment is crucial in order for early-college high schools to thrive far from their partner colleges. "This model is tremendously successful when it's implemented in a joint manner," White says. "The bonds crumble quickly when there are operational constraints, especially if the bonds aren't secure to begin with."
For now, both CUNY and the DOE appear to be moving toward a partnership model that doesn't rely on location to generate the sense of academic seriousness that Mary Georgescu described at BCCHS.
The College Now program, available in nearly 300 of the city's roughly 500 high schools, takes up CUNY classroom space only when there are seats to spare. Tens of thousands of students take College Now classes each year, ranging from study skills classes to college-level science and math. Some take them on college campuses along with college students, but, far more often, College Now takes the form of CUNY-funded instructors teaching in high school classrooms. In the early-college model, Conrad says, "the transition from high school into college is fairly gradual and fairly supported." So sending CUNY instructors on a part-time basis to high schools instead of opening special sections of courses to high school students on college campuses fits right in, she says.
In addition, changes inside the DOE have made it easier for some schools to build up their relationships with CUNY colleges, particularly when it comes to training teachers. In 2006, the Center for an Urban Future criticized the DOE for what it called a "lack of institutional support" for CUNY partnership schools.
Since then, the department has been reorganized so that principals in early-college schools can choose to align themselves directly with a CUNY-run professional development network. Eight of the 11 early-college schools opted to join it in 2007, as did a number of other college prep schools that had no previous relationship with CUNY.
For schools that do want to maintain a physical relationship in the face of CUNY's system-wide space crunch, there might be other approaches to integrating campuses beyond simply busing students, says Conrad, who also heads the professional development network. "We're hoping that some of the schools will develop the technology that will help them connect," she says.
As much as students and parents at the CUNY-partnered schools that are facing relocation might fear the change, Conrad emphasized that location is not the defining characteristic of successful early-college schools. "It's not the building that's different," she says. "It's the rigor." l