A Class of Their Own

Building partnerships among students and business leaders.

Founded in 1995, the educational nonprofit organization known as PENCIL creates innovative solutions to the challenges facing New York City public schools by building and supporting customized relationships among civic and business leaders with principals. Its flagship Partnership Program provides a flexible yet structured way for members of the private sector contribute knowledge, expertise and resources to help meet a school’s particular needs, ranging from curriculum enrichment and college awareness to professional development for school leaders.

"Our partnership has become fundamental in helping us overcome our challenges," says principal Sana Nasser of Truman High School in the Bronx, which is partnered with Charles Bendit of Taconic Investment Partners. Together, the collaborators have developed a business advisory council that has helped the school support small academies that are credited with increasing student performance and teacher retention.

The PENCIL Partnership Program focuses on enabling principals and their private sector partners to strategically address schools' needs. After submitting an application, prospective partners are matched based on their backgrounds and interests and a school’s specific goals. PENCIL assigns the partners an individual PENCIL Partnership Coordinator (PC) to provide one-on-one technical assistance throughout the collaboration, which often lasts for years. By working with their PC and leveraging PENCIL’s tools— including workshops, trainings, case studies, project guides and the PENCIL Exchange (a Web-based resource created exclusively for the PENCIL network)— partners develop goals and plans and implement projects on their own terms.

Ninety percent of principals recently reported that their collaborations have had a positive impact. Former principal Monica George of PS 153 in West Harlem attests that her partnership with Dave Barger, president and CEO of JetBlue Airways, was primarily responsible for decreasing teacher attrition from 25 percent to 3 percent within five years. Among their efforts, the partners developed a logo and mascot, a school store, school spirit days, faculty leadership enrichment programs and new sports teams for the school. Principal Catherine Reilly of Bushwick Leaders High School in Brooklyn reports that her partnership with Frank Bisignano, chief administrative officer of JP Morgan Chase & Co., contributed to a 200 percent increase in student applications. Together, the partners affiliated with the school created a new computer lab with wireless access and financial literacy workshops for parents and students. And principal Nancy Sing-Bock of PS 51 in Manhattan says that student attendance numbers increased from 89 percent to 96.4 percent within a month after launching an "on-time" incentive contest with PENCIL Partner UPS.

The schools and their students are not the only ones benefiting from the partnerships.

“Time and time again business leaders say to me, ‘We get out of this just as much as we put in,’” reveals PENCIL president Michael Haberman. “It’s a way of applying your skills in a new way, building company morale and investing in the future— something that we all believe in.”