November 2016 Alumni Spotlight
November Alumni Spotlight with Amar Rajwani, Executive MPA ’12
In the higher education world we think in terms of colleges and universities, programs and degrees. But early education is where our scholarly aspirations began. Amar Rajwani discusses the importance of new approaches to pre-K like centralized admissions and play-based curriculum, and his Executive MPA experience at the School.
What special challenges do you face as Director of Pre-Kindergarten Admissions?
Mayor de Blasio made the expansion of full-day pre-K in New York City a cornerstone of his campaign and his mayoralty. Since he took office in 2014, which is also when I started working at the Department of Education overseeing the admissions process for pre-K programs, there has been a renewed spotlight on how families apply and get placed in pre-K programs, which options are available for students, and how information is provided to families.
Some of the particular challenges for my team have involved streamlining the admissions process and improving communication with families about their pre-K options.
In 2015, I led the effort to create a single-application system by which families could apply to multiple pre-K programs using one process. In the past, families could apply to pre-K programs in public schools using one application, but families interested in free pre-K programs operated by community-based organizations (CBOs) had to visit each program individually and apply directly – a challenge for many families that limits their options.
Now, parents can apply to all their choices by completing a single form – either online, over the phone, or in person. The challenges of rolling out centralized admissions included communicating the new application procedures to families and also helping CBOs adapt to a new set of standardized policies that determined program admissions.
As the pre-K universe expanded, another challenge my team faced was helping families learn about all the new programs available to them. To that end, we partnered with the NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to create the Pre-K Finder, an online map providing information and locations for all 1-800 free pre-K programs in NYC.
What has changed over the past ten years in terms of how families approach a pre-K education? What do you think will change over the next ten?
Increasingly across the country, the importance of early education and its effect on children’s success later in life has come to the forefront of the legislative agenda over the last decade. In many states now, families have access to full-day pre-K programs, which allow parents to go to work, save thousands a year on daycare expenses, and provide their children with extended learning opportunities.
Additionally, the benefits of a play-based curriculum that allows children to explore their interests and learn with hands-on activities are more widely recognized, and parents are learning how to look for these environments when determining where their children will go to pre-K.
Looking ahead, we can only hope that the importance of early childhood education continues to be recognized by federal and state governments. What New York City has accomplished in expanding full-day pre-K access to 70,000 students should only be the beginning of a nationwide trend.
Why did you decide to come to the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs for your Executive Master of Public Administration? What did you gain that has improved your career prospects and your ability to approach your focus on public education?
When I started the Executive MPA program at Baruch, I was working for a small education nonprofit in Queens, overseeing a number of different areas: marketing and communications, customer service, strategic partnerships, and expansion. The skills I had were learned on the job, and they were specific to the agency. I realized that to have a bigger impact, I needed to fill in those skill gaps so I could take on roles with broader challenges.
The Executive MPA program at Baruch was the only choice that made sense to me. I worked full-time while earning my degree on weekends. Saturday morning instruction became Monday morning application. I learned alongside a cohort of diverse and civic-minded professionals who became like a family to me. Our professors had real-world leadership experience at high levels of local, state, and federal government, and pushed us to develop how we think about big questions of equity, equality, and the common good — lessons I still use in my work today.
There’s no question that my education at Baruch fully prepared me to succeed in the job I have now and has laid the groundwork for my future success.