CROWN HEIGHTS — President Barack Obama paid a brief, but boisterous visit to Brooklyn Friday to celebrate an innovative new public school he called "proof of what can be accomplished" with education reform.
"This whole borough is where generations of hopeful, striving immigrants came in search of opportunity, and to build better lives for themselves and their kids," the President told an ecstatic crowd of students at Crown Heights' Pathways in Technology Early College High School, which will award graduates both a New York State Regents diploma and an Associates degree.
"I’m here to today to talk about what we need to do as a country to build the same kind of opportunities for your generation and for future generations."
The school — a collaboration between the city Department of Education, the City University of New York, the New York City College of Technology and IBM — is one of hundreds to have opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration as part of its effort to replace failing public schools, particularly in low income neighborhoods.
The policy has not always been popular, particularly in Crown Heights, where housing multiple schools in the same building is commonplace and charter schools are more numerous than almost anywhere else in the city.
But where some have failed, others, like P-Tech, are thriving.
"You guys have opportunities here they don't have in most high schools yet," the President said. "You'll be in demand. Companies will want to hire you."
P-Tech first rose to national prominence this January, when the President mentioned it by name in his State of the Union Address. Since then, the city has opened two more schools based on the model, and promised to open three more next year. Governor Andrew Cuomo has committed to expand P-Tech's success across the state.
“This was one large high school that had been failing students for far too long," Bloomberg said. "The Obama administration stood by us as we worked to reform this school and others across the city. “
The President got a royal welcome in the borough of Kings, where he landed just after 3p.m. on Friday.
"We're mad excited," P-Tech freshman Eyanna Whitfield said. "We're just happy that he's coming to support us."
In his 20-minute address, the President highlighted the need for Americans to compete in the new global market, while expanding access to higher education in places like Crown Heights.
"We've got billions of people from Beijing to Bangalore to Moscow, all of whom are competing with you directly," Obama said. "Every year, students there are pulling ahead, especially in the subjects that this school specializes in."
He also took a few jabs at Congress over the recent government shut down, calling it a waste of valuable resources that could have been spent on education reform.
"Don't tell me we can afford to shut down the government and we can't afford to invest in education," Obama said. "I just sat in on a lesson called 'Real World Math' — I wonder if it's too late to send Congress here."
Obama told P-Tech students he'd been hoping to visit the school since the beginning of the year, saying it represents what American public schools can and should be.
"You've started something all across the country," Obama said. "If you set the bar high for yourself — that’s what America’s all about."